The Only Antidote To Anti Muslim Racism

WHILE the shock and horror of the Christchurch terrorist attack on Muslim worshippers at a masjid is settling, and commemorations, rallies, and public gatherings have ended, the pain of the loss of fifty innocent lives and the loss of innocence of the Muslim community of Christchurch endures.

Amidst all the pain and tragedy in Christchurch stood the towering personality of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Ms. Ardern’s compassion for the victims of this attack, and her swift, unapologetic condemnation of the terrorist attack, naming and acknowledging it for what it was, standing shoulder to shoulder with those who were mourning and walking in the shoes of the suffering, and, above all, committing to address New Zealand’s well –documented problem of right wing extremism, moved the world. As an upright leader she led her nation through mourning while making a firm commitment to ending hatred and swiftly implementing every measure in her government’s capacity to stop hate and violence. Her citizens followed by coming together regardless of their faith and background. There was no second guessing and justifying the violence that had wreaked havoc on the Muslim community of New Zealand. The nation stood together as a whole and sent a strong message that racism has no room in New Zealand. Compassion and kindness won hands down, making Jacinda Ardern an icon of peace in the world, particularly among Muslims.

Just over two years ago, the province of Quebec in Canada witnessed its own terrorist attack on a masjid, killing six innocent worshippers, the first such attack on North American soil, sending shock waves in multicultural Canada and the world. After the attack, hate crimes, as per Statistics Canada, rose in 2017 by 47 percent. In light of Bill 21, tabled in the Quebec legislature this month, a bill that undermines religious freedom, legitimizes discriminatory practices, targets minorities, and impacts all who are visible Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs, it is important to pay attention to Canada’s response to hate. Even Canada’s top philosopher, Charles Taylor, changed his mind after the Quebec massacre about the religious symbols debate and suggested that Quebec should not further “stigmatize minorities. He called the Quebec government’s new secularism bill clear discrimination, and an unreasonable restriction, an answer to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Canada has a global image of a country where diversity thrives, where newcomers are welcome, and where politeness reigns. So for Canadians to see right wing extremism and white supremacy as a problem is still not the norm. While research proves that  between 2015 and 2018 there was a sharp rise in right wing extremism, and that these groups are building alliances with other right wing groups  in the United States and Europe, there are no efforts to counter this force with equal measure. The Canadian Security Intelligence Services secret report  post Quebec masjid massacre admits that the focus of right wing extremist groups is Muslim immigrants, multiculturalism and those Canadian politicians who are seen as supporting Muslim-friendly legislation. With Quebec’s secularism bill, the greatest impact will be on already vulnerable visible Muslim women in a charged environment, compromising their safety. What this bill ignores is that it is the very same far right politics of breeding hostility of minorities in general, and Muslims in particular, that resulted in the 2017 masjid massacre. The ideas promoted by the Quebec charter of values, the burkini debate, and the banning of religious symbols debate all contributed to anti-Muslim hatred and a dramatic rise in hate crimes in 2017. And its deadly manifestation was the Quebec masjid massacre. Tabling Bill 21, and the debate that surrounds it, will do more harm as long as systemic racism continues to be used to divide Canadians.

Here are some key points of contrast to demonstrate that hate and prejudice supported by systemic racism can alienate, and even kill members of marginalized communities.

Last week, in New Zealand, the Parliament almost unanimously voted to tighten gun laws. In Quebec, two years after the massacre, the Premier refuses to even introduce measures for better screening for those buying guns.

The same Premier, Francois Legault, a day after the anniversary of Quebec massacre, contrary to evidence, said that Islamohopbia does not exist in Quebec and thereby he saw no need to mark January 29th as a national day of action against hate and intolerance.

Leaders and their stance matters. In the United States, hate against Muslims has been systemically normalized under President Trump. Karsten Muller and Carlo Schwarz’s study, Making America Hate Again, suggests a direct correlation between the increase in hate crimes against Muslims in the United States and the Trump presidency. In India, under Prime Minister Modi, there has been a rise of the right wing nationalist Hindutva movement and resulting attacks against Muslims and Dalits, recently condemned  by the United Nations human rights chief. In China, the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination estimates up to a million Uighur Muslims are being detained in concentration camps, camps that China legitimizes.

There is no doubt that Islamophobia is on the rise at an alarming rate. The latest research from across Europe and hate crime data across other participating countries in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), supports this claim. Denying anti-Muslim racism and discrimination, both overt and subtle, therefore amounts to complicity.

Putting a stop to this hate with real consequences is our collective responsibility. Muslims alone cannot do it. Today, more than ever, there is need for interfaith and intercultural alliances and collaboration. Given that visible Muslim women are the main victims of anti-Muslim hate, those who adhere to non-imperialist approaches to feminism need to speak louder and walk alongside Muslim women already in this fight against racism and hate.  Based on her extensive research, Amina Easat-Daas proposes a very useful four-step approach to countering anti Muslim hate:

1) Define Islamophobia,

2) Document Islamophobia,

3) Deconstruct its false narratives, and

4) Reconstruct new and positive narratives based on the lived Muslim experiences.

This is an approach that all communities could adopt as an action plan.

Anti-Muslim racism is a global phenomenon and often the media has fueled this fire. It is time for compassionate leadership committed to ending divisive politics that fuels hate. Let Jacinda Ardern, a compassionate human being and an astute leader, be an example for leaders all across the world. It is also time for a compassionate global grass roots movement to end systemic racism.

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Idrisa Pandit

Idrisa Pandit is the Director of the Studies in Islam program at Renison University College, University of Waterloo, Canada.

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