On Thursday March 23, the parliamentary motion (M-103) on Islamophobia rightfully passed in the House of Commons. Federal Liberal MP Iqra Khaled introduced this private member’s motion “to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”. The motion has no concrete proposals and is essentially a statement which condemns Islamophobia. The only practical proposal was that a House committee write a report on Islamophobia.
M-103 was the response to petition e-411 which received just under 70,000 signatures. It called on the House to not associate extremists with Islam and to condemn the clear rising tide of Islamophobia across the country. M-103 also served as the Liberal government’s response to a series of racist incidents and violent attacks across the country directed at the Muslim community.
On January 29, a barbaric massacre at an Islamic cultural centre occurred in Quebec in which six people were killed. On the night of February 2, someone tried to fire bomb a mosque in the west-end of Toronto. There have been repeated swastikas and anti-black graffiti spray painted at York University in Toronto. Students at the university were evacuated multiple times in one week over racist bomb threats in late March. In the context of economic slowdown and declining living standards across Canada, racism and xenophobia are being used to divide students and working people. The frequency of these incidents suggests that the far-right feels emboldened enough to target minorities.
The passing of this parliamentary motion elicited strong responses nationwide. Right-wing demonstrations against M-103 clashed with left-wing counter-demonstrations in Toronto, Calgary, Montreal and many other cities. In Toronto, a right-wing protest against M-103 inspired a counter-demonstration, which was largely made up of immigrant and left-wing youth who outnumbered the right-wing by 30 to 1. Some of the slogans the counter-demonstrators used were: “no Islamophobia,” “no white supremacy,” “off our streets Nazi scum” and “make racists afraid again”.
Working class communities and students have routinely come out in spontaneous demonstrations to drown out the far-right, who preach intolerance in the streets. This direct mass action is a far-cry from the Liberal approach which is moralistic in its condemnation of the far-right while empty in its actions. The only substance to the Liberal Party initiated parliamentary motion (M-103) is that it calls on a standing committee to collect data and present a report. This motion and the recent events that have transpired pose the question: is condemnation of Islamophobia enough and can we trust the Liberal Party to fight Islamophobia in Canada?
The Liberal Party’s legacy in power clashes directly with the supposed intentions of this motion against Islamophobia. The Liberals were the party who launched an invasion of Afghanistan. It was under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin that Canada entered into alliance with George W. Bush and Tony Blair to carry out the “War on Terror”. The war against terror included a mass campaign of racist hysteria against the people of the Middle East, which was also accompanied by secret intelligence and police efforts to monitor the Muslim community in Canada.
In fact, the current Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan, is believed to have been aware that prisoners which the Canadian Forces were handing over to local Afghan security were being systematically tortured. With respect to Libya, the Liberals voted with the Conservatives to launch air strikes to topple the Qaddafi regime and support the opposition which was controlled by Islamists at this point. Sections of these Islamists would later go onto constitute themselves as the local wing of ISIS.
The Liberal Party engages in brutal wars of occupation and air strikes on predominantly Muslim countries as well as systematic surveillance efforts targeting the Muslim population in Canada. Now they present themselves as defenders of the Muslim population. Furthermore, their emphasis on separating extremists from the multitude of Muslim beliefs is itself hypocritical, given the Liberals support for extremist Islamist groups in Libya and the recent arms deal approved by Prime Minister Trudeau to the regime in Saudi Arabia.
We must remember that the Liberal Party is the preferred political party of Canadian capitalism. Capitalism in Canada has always based itself on racism. From the recent war on terror, to the internment of Japanese Canadians, the Liberal Party has utilized racism for the interests of Canadian imperialism. It was also a Liberal government that allowed the CIA to spy on Cuba by using the Canadian embassy. Liberal governments have their own dark track record of racism and imperialism.
We don’t even have to look back into the annals of Canadian history to see this. From a majority position, the Harper government pushed anti-terror legislation (Bill C-51) through the House of Commons in 2015. C-51 increased the power of Canadian police and intelligence agencies over society in the name of fighting terrorism. There have been significant fears that it would give the police a free hand to target already besieged Muslim communities. Criticism over the bill also erupted regarding its power to target aboriginal, environmental and trade union activists under the broad term “terror”.
Instead of taking a position against C-51 as an erosion of civil liberties, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals voted for it. During the 2015 federal election, the Liberals promised to amend Bill C-51 to remove what they deemed to be the problematic elements. Almost 18 months into Trudeau’s majority government, no changes to Harper’s “anti-terror” legislation have been made.
Writing for CBC, Neil Macdonald pointed out “M-103 has also injected a note of hysteria, exactly as the Liberals no doubt intended, into the Tory leadership race”. Every candidate in the leadership race, except Michael Chong, came out against the motion. The “respectable” anti-Muslim hysteria of the Conservative Party emboldens more far-right groups to directly act on those anti-immigrant sentiments in the form of racist violence.
The neo-Nazi Soldiers of Odin marched against the motion in Manitoba. Liberal MP Iqra Khaled herself was harassed multiple times. This recent wave of right-wing extremism comes on the back of decades of prejudice and intolerance fed to the Canadian public by both the Liberals and the Conservatives. It must be combatted directly by the trade union and student movements based on mass action and the unity of the working class and oppressed.
This motion passed by the Liberals, which proposes nothing but words, has had the effect of stirring the right-wing and making this issue the centre point of political debate. This serves the Liberal Party well by shoring up its support among Muslim and immigrant communities. As more than one commentator has suggested, this motion seems like a very tactful move to focus the debate around Islamophobia in the middle of the Conservative Party leadership race. As a result of the right-wing hysteria inside the Conservative Party and the right-wing violence outside, the Muslim population’s feeling that it is under siege has greatly increased.
If the Liberal Party was committed to fighting Islamophobia it would not have passed a motion which committed the government to nothing. It would have called for an end to intervention in the Middle East and would implement policies to address the economic and social roots of racism and xenophobia which are fuelled by rising unemployment, poverty, austerity and generalized scarcity which intensify the competition between workers. The Liberal Party would never do this as it would clash with the interests of its corporate backers.
The Other Right-Wing
It’s worth mentioning that there exists the other right-wing. A right-wing that the Liberals try to appease at home while supposedly “fighting” abroad in the name of opposing extremism and terrorism. This is the right-wing, ultra-conservative element of the Muslim diaspora with links to the Gulf monarchies. The politics that the Liberals pursue under the banner of multiculturalism results in alliances with right-wing, conservative, religious, and moneyed interests from different ethnic communities. The connection between the Liberal Party and the organizers of petition e-411 – which inspired the parliamentary motion - is such an alliance.
The man who initiated petition e-411, Samer Majzoub, is an organiser for various Muslim Brotherhood front organizations. Predictably, this ignited the right-wing conservative media’s portrayal of Majzoub as some mastermind organizing for Sharia Law on the back of 70,000 Muslims who signed his petition. The conservative reaction is of course false and the mass support for the petition has nothing to do with a mobilization for Sharia Law in Canada. The Muslim population looks to the petition and the motion M-103 as a lifeboat in the Trump era of shootings and hate crimes.
It is, however, quite telling as to the reactionary character of the Liberal Party’s mantra of multiculturalism. The Muslim Brotherhood is a right-wing Islamist organization linked to very wealthy interests in the Middle East. It is not representative of the interests of working class immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, as the 2013 insurrectionary mass demonstrations that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt showed.
The Liberals and Conservatives both execute a foreign policy abroad and an economic policy at home that serves the interests of big business, which means wars, military intervention and nationalist hysteria against the “enemy” outside, and cuts and privatizations to social programs such as health, education and housing at home. Faced with social anger and unrest, the Conservatives lean on racial prejudices to scapegoat the immigrant population as the cause of the growing scarcity in jobs and services. The Liberals lean on an elite and right-wing layer within immigrant communities to present themselves as defenders of immigrants against the growing racist sentiment caused by the scarcity their economic policies have caused.
This is a cynical policy carried out by two wings of the Canadian ruling class. Neither provides any solutions to the working class, whether born in Canada or abroad, whether Muslim, Christian or Atheist. It serves to tie different layers of the population behind the interests of big business.
Beyond Empty Words: Combatting Islamophobia
It is not surprising that in a context where Muslims feel under siege, a condemnation of hatred from the highest political authority in the land provides comfort. However, the Liberal approach offers empty words. The root cause of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia is the economic structure of capitalism which cannot provide for the majority of society. Capitalist crisis is thoroughly interconnected with rising waves of Islamophobia in the West broadly, including Canada.
To fight the racism imposed upon us from above, we must oppose those who would see our conditions of life rot away. To fight this division, we need to fight the capitalist system that takes away jobs, healthcare and education from all workers. The trade union movement needs to begin mass mobilizations against Islamophobia. If the debates of a few parliamentarians have emboldened racists, then a trade union demonstration of 50,000 or more can quickly put the racists in their proper place.
Mass mobilization should not stop at opposing the far right. The multiracial working class must be mobilized in the fight against inequality, unemployment, austerity and capitalism. It is through united struggle against the bosses that these artificial divisions are overcome in action and the socio-economic roots of racism can begin to be addressed.
The NDP as the political wing of the labour movement must stand up against racism. However, the NDP must put forward a clear opposition to Canadian imperialist intervention in the Middle East, to anti-terror legislation, and must expose and condemn the monitoring by police agencies of Muslim communities. More importantly, it must fight for socialism and a program of bold economic reforms that address the declining living standards under capitalism. Trade unions and NDP riding associations should reach out to Muslim communities to provide support amid this political firestorm of hate.
Muslims have faced oppression by the Canadian state. The police and intelligence services have been spying on Muslim communities. Muslim youth are often racially profiled by local police forces. We cannot expect the institutions of the capitalist state (police, courts, prisons, schools, etc.) to protect the Muslim community when they are a central part of the problem. Where there is a failure to protect the Muslim community, the labour movement should get involved. Volunteer security patrols to protect Muslims against white supremacist gangs and racist violence should be organized, through cooperation between the local community and organizations of the working class.
The working class must mobilize to defeat racism and Islamophobia. The labour movement must reach out to the most marginalized section of the working class and poor to build unity, across religious and racial lines, through collective struggle. This would expose the hypocrisy and cynicism of the Liberals and actually represent a real step forward in the vital struggle to defeat racism and Islamophobia.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
The Liberals cannot protect Muslim communities from racism!
For mass struggle of the multiracial working class against racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia!