I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America. With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.
As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past. As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.
Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts. But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.
Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government. First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto. In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.
Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized. Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city’s spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto.”
This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament. Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”
Substance, not symbolism
While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest. It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.
Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.
I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behaviour, our own actions.
President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.