In the wake of the devastating terrorist attack that killed four members of the Afzaal family in London, right-wing media and politicians have had the audacity to downplay Islamophobia in Ontario and scapegoat Quebec for the poison of racism across the country. In typical hypocritical fashion, the Toronto Sun has published an article titled “Calling out Bigotry Starts with Denouncing Quebec’s Bill 21.” In the article, Brian Lilley states that “We can’t call out the kind of hatred that leads to a targeted terrorist attack like we allegedly [!] saw in London this week if we aren’t willing to call out the things that help lead to such acts.” One suggestion to our friends at the Toronto Sun: if you’re looking for the “things that help lead to such acts,” just take a look in the mirror!
Blaming Quebec does nothing to make Muslims feel safer and sets the struggle against racist violence backwards by fomenting more divisions in the working class and downplaying the existence of Islamophobia in Ontario. How can you fight against Islamophobia if you deny that it exists?
In reality, the Toronto Sun continuously plays into racist tropes of Muslims as a threat to the “old-stock” Canadian. In a recent article entitled “There is No Islamophobia in Canada,” Tarek Fatah said:
[Muslims] forced almost every urban secondary school to allocate space for makeshift mosques and, at times, cafeterias where Islamic clerics go to give sermons to ensure gender segregation and lecture our youth on how to reject the ‘western way of life.’
The question then is simple: If we Muslims are comfortable denouncing Jews and Christians 48 times a day in our five daily prayers, then isn’t it we who spread hate and then play victim?
No matter what, the solution to Islamophobia lies within us. Let’s not wear the Muslim Brotherhood political flag on our heads and then pretend it is a command from Allah.
In one fell swoop, he denied that Islamophobia exists while peddling Islamophobic stereotypes that Muslims are a dangerous threat to Western civilization. Since he can’t avoid the fact that Muslims face violence for their beliefs, he blames them for it. You can’t make this up!
All of this racist dog whistling threatens the safety of Muslims in Canada. Meanwhile, other right-wing politicians have denied that Ontario has a problem with racism at all.
The London-West Conservative Party candidate Paul Paolatto tweeted that he “took exception to anyone who … characterizes the entire city of #LdnOnt, my city, as a racist city.” In reality, the number of hate crimes targeting Black, Muslim, Jewish, and LGBTQ+ individuals has been above the national average in most years between 2015 and 2019, with 6.2 incidents per 100,000 in 2019.
Contrary to politicians like Paolatto and media outlets like the Sun who say that the idea that Muslims are not safe in Canada is nonsense, the poison of Islamophobia is alive and well in the province.
Violence against Muslims
The senseless killing of the Afzaal family marks the third time in four years that people have killed Muslims in Canada for practicing their religion.
Hate crimes against Muslims rose nine per cent in 2019, going from 166 incidents to 181 incidents. Needless to say, this accounts for just those hate crimes reported to the police. Hate crimes often go unreported because of a fear of reprisal and a rightful worry that the criminal justice system will not take them seriously.
Since the terrorist attack in London, an attacker threw a Black Muslim woman to the ground in Edmonton, and the Islamic Institute of Toronto faced bomb threats. The killing of the Afzaal family is not an isolated incident.
In a 2017 survey, 46 per cent of Canadians have an unfavourable view of Islam. In Ontario, more than half of the people surveyed in 2016 believed that Islam promotes violence.
From far-right thugs attacking women for wearing hijabs at supermarkets and telling them “to go back to their country” to CSIS agents singling out Muslim students for interrogation, Canada is not the multicultural paradise it pretends to be.
The same people who deny that Islamophobia is a problem in Canada are those who stoke anti-Muslim fears and prejudices.
The shameful legacy of Harper-era policies
The racist poison of Islamophobia did not fall from the sky. Right-wing media publications like the Toronto Sun and politicians like former prime minister Stephen Harper promoted Islamophobic ideas and policies in order to justify imperialist war in the Middle East and to expand the domestic security apparatus.
After committing Canada to go to war with ISIS, Harper deliberately linked Muslims who attend local mosques to the “global jihadist movement,” insinuating that all Muslims are terrorists until proven innocent. Following their neighbours to the south, Harper played into Islamophobic tropes to justify the war as a way of bring “democracy” and “civilization” to the Middle East.
When the National Council of Canadian Muslims chided him for defending an Islamophobic Zionist, he said, “We will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas.” Once again, equating practicing Muslims in Canada with terrorists.
In 2011, Jason Kenney, then Harper’s immigration minister, pushed through legislation that banned niqābs during the citizenship ceremony. When the ban was overturned, Kenney said that it was “against long-held Canadian values of openness and the equality of women and men,” portraying Muslims as enemies of Canadian values.
In 2015, the Harper government wrote Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which lowers the threshold for surveillance and investigation. The government promoted the legislation with pictures of practicing Muslims. The government used the spectre of “Islamic terrorists” to expand the powers of the state. This legislation was passed with the support of the Liberals in Parliament, and these expanded CSIS powers have since been used by the state under both Liberal and Conservative governments to harass Muslim students and spy on Indigenous activists.
Under the guise of protecting women, in 2015 the Conservatives pushed through the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act,” which mirrors the language of “anti-sharia” bills from the United States. Considering that honour killings, polygamy, and forced marriage were already illegal – the concerns the bill addressed – its true purpose was to stoke fears and suspicions against Muslims. The dog whistle of “barbaric cultural practices” continued to sow fear amongst average Canadians with the idea that Muslims were backwards and a threat to Canadian society.
A 2015 article from The Economist, a frank pro-capitalist newspaper, explained that “fighting terrorists enhances the Conservatives’ tough-guy image and distracts from the current weakness of the economy.” Islamophobia has been a useful tool of the ruling class to divide workers, with many blaming their Muslim brothers and sisters for social ills, while the ruling class is absolved and faces weaker opposition.
Islamophobia in the media
The media’s role in this is just as shameful. The media reflects the ideas and interests of the ruling class, which are tied to the defense of a system that is racist to its core. Capitalism relies on racism to keep the working class divided because workers united pose an existential threat to capitalism. The importance of this vitriol to the ruling class can be seen by looking at any article mentioning Muslims in the Toronto Sun, which is published for mainly working class readers in Canada’s largest city.
The Toronto Sun links Muslim student associations to terrorist organizations, says that burkas and niqābs are “security risks,” and “Christianity is under siege” by radical Islam.
Years of playing into racist stereotypes has left an indelible mark on people’s perceptions of Muslims. Without a doubt, media and politicians have blood on their hands for the racist attacks from those who take these ideas to their logical conclusion. Considering their history, it’s no wonder that now they wish to deny that Islamophobia exists altogether!
It is our duty to stand in solidarity with the youth and workers who wish to fight against Bill 21, which bans all public employees in Quebec from wearing religious symbols. However, media outlets like the Sun are not calling out Bill 21 because they wish to advocate for Muslims in Quebec. Instead, in typical Anglo-chauvinist fashion, they paint Quebec as backwards and racist compared to supposedly “civilized” English Canada, in order to distract from the sordid role they have played in spreading racist ideas.
The crisis of capitalism
The crisis of capitalism is fertile ground for the spread of racist and far-right ideas. With falling living standards and increased instability, the heyday of capitalism is over.
In the last month alone, the Canadian economy lost 68,000 jobs—almost 32,000 of them have been in Ontario. Meanwhile, inflation in Canada has been at its highest rate in over a decade. This means that the real wages of the working class have fallen, and many are left behind. People find themselves in precarious working and living conditions, often living paycheque to paycheque.
The far right taps into the feeling that the old way of life—the days where you could support a family on a single income—no longer exists. Rather than accepting blame for the chaos of capitalism which always places profits above people’s lives, the ruling class scapegoats minorities for the crisis that capitalists have created. As long as capitalism continues to exist, senseless murders against racialized youth and workers will continue.
Only the working class united in struggle across all racial, religious, and national lines can defeat racism by placing capitalism in the dustbin of history once and for all.
Working-class unity is our strongest weapon. An injury to one is an injury to all!