M-103 committee hears calls for better data and a definition of Islamophobia

Nice to see the Post addressing its previous lack of balance in its coverage of the M-103 hearings. And most of the recommendations mentioned below are reasonable and innocuous, unlike some of the earlier fear mongering:

Better hate crime data, more training for law enforcement and a clear definition of Islamophobia are some of the recommendations the House of Commons heritage committee has heard most frequently as part of its racism and religious discrimination study required by Motion 103.

The anti-Islamophobia motion M-103 touched off a firestorm of controversy en route to its passage in March. Put forward by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, it asked the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.” Though it is not a law, critics have claimed it will lead to the stifling of free speech by preventing people from criticizing Islam.

Many of the recommendations heard by the heritage committee this fall amount to little more than calls for better education and more support for victims of hate crimes.

Witnesses testifying before the committee have repeatedly raised the lack of data on racism and hate crimes, calling it a significant problem. In June, Statistics Canada reported that hate crimes targeting the Muslim population had increased by 61 per cent between 2014 and 2015, and that hate crimes overall had increased by five per cent. But the agency also noted that the reported data “likely undercounts the true extent of hate crime in Canada, as not all crimes are reported to police.”

Last week, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) testified that the collection of hate-crime data “varies widely by police department,” and urged the federal government to “establish uniform, national guidelines and standards.”

On Monday, Serah Gazali of Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, a community organization in Vancouver, said Canadians also need better education about their rights and their options for reporting hate crimes. “I think (victims) talk about it within themselves and perhaps it’s normalized,” she said. “So they don’t think of it as something that needs to be really addressed.”

Other witnesses have called for police officers to receive more training about how to deal with victims reporting such crimes.

Some have also argued that Canada’s existing hate-crime laws must be strengthened or better enforced.

“Federal government resources should be allocated to support the development of dedicated local police hate-crime units,” CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel included among his recommendations to the committee. “These units have been integrated into several police services across Canada, and have constituted an unmitigated success.”

The delegation from Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, which was presenting recommendations from a community round-table organized with help from NDP MP Jenny Kwan, said the government “should strengthen laws against hate speech and crimes by providing a much more clear and inclusive definition of hate crime and Islamophobia.”

Witnesses throughout the hearings have suggested that Islamophobia, the term at the heart of the motion, needs to be better defined. “The term Islamophobia has been defined in multiple ways, some effective and some problematic,” Fogel argued. “Unfortunately, it has become a lightning rod for controversy, distracting from other important issues at hand.”

On Monday, Gazali went further, suggesting that Islamophobia should explicitly be criminalized. The Criminal Code of Canada currently forbids the public incitement or promotion of hatred “against any identifiable group,” and the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on grounds including race, national or ethnic origin and religion.

Since the hearings began last month, a number of witnesses have recommended an updated national action plan against racism, similar to a plan released in March by Ontario. The federal government first released its own action plan in 2005, but Shalini Konanur, executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, said the old plan is “too general.” [Note: the previous action plan, CAPAR, was largely symbolic, with the one meaningful initiative being the collection of police-reported hate crimes data.]

The Ontario plan, she said, targets four pillars: Islamophobia, anti-black racism, Indigenous racism and anti-Semitism. “Within those four pillars, there are very clearly identified targets for what the government hopes to do within the next five years,” she told the committee in September.

Education and employment are other areas where action is needed, according to some witnesses. Ayse Akinturk, an executive with the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, pointed to the challenges many immigrants encounter in trying to work as professionals in Canada. “I think recognition of foreign credentials, international credentials should become a much facilitated procedure,” she said Monday. “It takes really a lot of effort and years, at the end of which people give up and try to find other solutions to make a living for themselves.”

Others have recommended mandatory anti-racism training for government employees, and that Ottawa should work with the provinces to improve childhood education on diversity and multiculturalism.

In recognition of a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City that left six people dead earlier this year, Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, recommended that Jan. 29 be declared a “national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia in Canada.”

Source: National Post

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Some fears of Islam justified: Lawyer [David Matas]

Sun Media continues to cover the perspectives of those concerned without comparable coverage of those in support of M-103. Both perspectives need to be covered.

My (faint) hope is that the Canadian Heritage committee will come up with a consensus on a working definition, one that puts that particular canard behind us, and allows focus on the day-to-day practical issues:

A celebrated Canadian human rights lawyer urged MPs to be careful in their use of the term Islamophobia, saying “fear of some elements of Islam is mere prudence.”

David Matas, an Order of Canada recipient who began his career as a clerk for the Chief Justice of Canada in the 1960s, delivered testimony Wednesday before the M-103 committee hearings in his capacity as senior counsel to B’nai Brith Canada.

“Not every fear of Islam is Islamophobia,” Matas said to the House of Commons Heritage Committee, noting that anyone who is not afraid of the various radical Islamic terrorist outfits in the world is “foolhardy”.

“Islamophobia does not appear in a vacuum,” Matas told MPs. “It grows out of a fear of incitement and acts of hatred and terrorism coming from elements of the Islamic community.”

The Winnipeg-based lawyer, who ran for office years ago as a Liberal, recommended the committee take a “dual focus” approach on both those victimized by Islamophobia and those within the Islamic community inciting hatred and terrorism.

Following Matas’ testimony, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, urged the committee to aim towards a more precise definition of Islamophobia.

M-103 was nominally designed to denounce, and study, all forms of racism and discrimination, but has faced extensive controversy for singling out Islam.

Fogel pointed to a Toronto District School Board booklet’s definition of Islamophobia that included mere dislike of political Islam as worthy of censure.

“This incident exposes significant problems with relying on ad hoc, inadequate definitions of Islamophobia,” said Fogel.

On Monday, Muslim author and Sun columnist Farzana Hassan told the committee her concerns about how the term is used in other countries to suppress criticism from within the faith.

Source: Some fears of Islam justified: Lawyer | St. Thomas Times-Journal

By discouraging criticism of Islam, M103 could make it harder to combat anti-Semitism

Striking looking at the list of witnesses before the Canadian Heritage committee studying M-103 of just how polarized the positions are, almost to the extent of parallel universes, with relatively few who bridge the gap.

B’nai Brith plays a useful role in flagging issues, as they did in flagging the issue regarding the TDSB Islamophobia guidebook.

One of the useful contributions of the Conservative government to multiculturalism was its recognition that broad anti-racism program did not address how racism played out differently for different groups. As a result, they focussed on antisemitism with a number of major initiatives, including the long overdue joining of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the hosting of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism and the holding of unofficial parliamentary hearings on antisemitism.

Similarly, the same logic, that general messaging may not be enough to address – and debate – the concerns of Canadian Muslims, also applies to M-103.

And just as the working definition of antisemitism tried to provide some clarity on when criticism of Israeli policies crossed over to antisemitism, the same would be useful with respect to criticism regarding Muslims that crosses the line between legitimate concerns and anti-Muslim speech.

But unclear to date whether the hearings will get us there:

Recently, B’nai Brith drew attention to an official guidebook published by Ontario’s largest school board that condemned Islamophobia and defined the term to include “dislike directed… towards Islamic politics or culture.”

While the Toronto District School Board quickly realized its error and pledged to replace this absurdly broad definition, it must be noted that the guidebook was prepared with the support of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a group that has campaigned strongly in favour of M-103. One would assume that the NCCM is an authority on the proper definition of Islamophobia.

To be clear, banning or even discouraging any “dislike” of “Islamic politics” would make it nearly impossible to combat the virulent Jew-hatred that we have seen emanating from some Muslim institutions in Canada.

Canada cannot become a haven for anti-Muslim bigotry. But, by the same token, we cannot allow a misguided reluctance to criticize anything dubbed Islamic to stymie the protection of Canada’s most targeted religious minority — Canadian Jews.

Source: By discouraging criticism of Islam, M103 could make it harder to combat anti-Semitism | National Post

Systemic racism encourages half of Canadians to fear Islam and Muslims | Ayesha Chaudhry

Chaudhry, Canada Research Chair of religion, law and social justice at UBC on the M-103 hearings.

I tend to agree with her that the focus on the word Islamophobia appears largely  a smokescreen to avoid discussing the on-the-ground issues:

Recently I appeared before the standing committee on Canadian heritage, which is holding hearings in response to the passing of M-103 earlier this year. The hearings are ostensibly about systemic racism and religious discrimination, but some on the committee seem unaware of this.

What should be an investigation into systemic hate in Canada often feels like a referendum on one word mentioned in M-103: Islamophobia.

From the start of the hearings, witnesses have weighed in, with the active support of some committee members, about whether Islamophobia exists, where the term came from, and whether it is an appropriate term of art. Perhaps, some have offered, we should instead use the term “anti-Muslim”; perhaps we should differentiate between hate that is directed at Islam and hate directed at Muslims; perhaps we should be focusing less on Islamophobia and more on Muslim extremism and radicalization.

Each of these theoretical forays into the technicalities of a single term represents a theft from the task of combating systemic hate, which is the mandate of the committee.

Systemic hate is not bound by technicalities, and it is not restricted to any group of individuals. Rather, it is a form of hate that has come to be enshrined in the institutions of a society, silently shaping the attitudes and behaviours of vast members of the population.

People do not realize they are being shaped by systemic hate, whether that takes the form of misogyny, racism, religious discrimination, or something else. We may not think of ourselves as sexist, yet we somehow manage to regularly pay women less. We may not think of ourselves as racist, yet Indigenous people and Black-Canadians are overrepresented in our prisons, and under-represented in positions of power.

The same goes for Islamophobia. Most people do not consider themselves Islamophobic, and believe that they can differentiate between the religion, Islam, and its adherents, Muslims. But when hate is systemic, it does not accommodate our self-image or make neat boundaries between Islam and Muslims; hate is not that sophisticated.

Consider that according to a 2017 poll, 46 per cent of Canadians have an unfavourable opinion of Islam, and that a 2016 poll found that more than half of Ontarians — 55 per cent — believe that mainstream Islamic doctrines promote violence.

These numbers are deeply worrying because they describe a pervasive climate of fear and loathing that does not stop where a religion ends and its adherents begin. Indeed, in recent polls 43 per cent of Canadians say that they hold a negative opinion of Muslims, more than half — 52 per cent — believe that Muslims can’t be trusted, and 42 per cent believe that discrimination against Muslims is “mainly their fault.” It is not an accident that these are almost the same percentages as those who hold negative opinions of Islam.

In light of these pervasive attitudes about Islam and Muslims, it is unsurprising that between 2012 and 2015, hate crimes against Muslims increased a staggering 253 per cent.

That is not because of lone individuals, but because systemic racism has encouraged about half of the Canadian public to fear Islam and Muslims, without needing to differentiate between the two. Systemic Islamophobia helps us understand why people with Muslim names have a harder time getting jobs, why they are policed at a higher rate, and why one-third of Canadians believe it is “unacceptable” for their children to marry Muslims.

It is ugly, it is shameful, and it is systemic when close to half the population of one of the most peaceful nations on earth hates the second largest religion on earth and its adherents. That hate consumes all of us, the hated and the haters. And such hate results in discrimination that harms our citizens and weakens our democratic institutions.

It has been deeply painful to watch the committee’s hearings about systemic racism and religious discrimination devolve into debates about technical terms, and to watch discussions about Muslim Canadians, even when we are the victims of violence, revolve around Islamic extremism and radicalization. 

For the sake of our citizens and the future of our democracy, I hope that the remaining committee hearings will focus on interrogating the ways in which systemic racism structures our society, privileging some while and disenfranchising others.

Only by recognizing how we are all complicit in systemic racism and religious discrimination, by looking at our systemic problems square in the eye, can we begin to think about addressing and eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination.

If we look away, if we squander this opportunity, then we know for sure; the problem it not the term “Islamophobia”, the problem is us. 

Source: Systemic racism encourages half of Canadians to fear Islam and Muslims | Vancouver Sun

Why we need a parliamentary motion to fight Islamophobia: Farber and Sucharov

Very good column by Bernie Farber and Mira Sucharov:

There are times when one community within the Canadian mosaic experiences particular trauma such that succor is in order. Today, that community is Canadian Muslims. MP Iqra Khalid knew this when she proposed M-103, a private member’s motion designed to fight Islamophobia. Now, the parliamentary hearings flowing from M-103’s recommendations provide all Canadians with an opportunity to stand up to Islamophobia.

No one understands this situation better than Canadian Jews. There was a time in this country where Jews were unwelcome, seen as swarthy crooks and objects of suspicion. Attitudes softened somewhat after it became clear that such bigotry — through shameful episodes like the banning of the M.S. St. Louis — had led Canada to be complicit in the Nazi genocide of six million Jewish men, women and children.

But discrimination against Jews in Canada continued. Until the Canadian Jewish Congress challenged it in court in the early 1950s, Jews were often barred from purchasing land. Employers discriminated against applicants with Jewish-sounding names. Some resorts and country clubs kept their doors closed to Jews, and Jewish doctors were banned from practicing in some hospitals. And into the 1960s, there were strict quotas placed on the number of Jews allowed into universities.

While anti-semitism remains a scourge worldwide, in Canada it now hovers along the edges of society. Not so Islamophobia which is, unfortunately, front and centre.

With the horrific mosque attack in Quebec City last January, Canadian Muslims now have the tragic distinction of being the only people in the country’s history to have been gunned down in their house of worship. Incredibly, in the weeks following, anti-Islam protests took place across downtown Toronto. And two months after the massacre, a protestor ripped up and stomped on a Koran at a Peel District school board meeting.

And then there are the quiet prejudicial attitudes. A 2017 poll revealed that only 4 per cent of Canadians would find it “unacceptable” for their son or daughter to marry a Christian. That number jumps to 32 per cent when the hypothetical betrothed is Muslim.

M-103 follows in the tradition of supporting particular targeted groups as needed. But that support has sometimes come decades too late. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that a parliamentary motion was passed unanimously decrying anti-semitism. What’s more, unlike the anti-semitism motion, the text of M-103 is fully inclusive. Not only does it condemn Islamophobia, it points to the need to oppose “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

Yet critics of the motion continue to air doubts that opposing Islamophobia is worthy of Canada’s attention. In a briefing note to the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the motion’s recommendations, retired Canadian Forces major Russ Cooper has expressed concern that the motion will trample free speech.

Similarly, Jay Cameron of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms warns that if “M-103 is legislatively codified, the unconstitutional infringement of freedom of thought, belief, expression and religion is inevitable.”

And Father Raymond De Sousa told the hearing that “to focus on one religion alone, as M-103 suggests, would be unwise.”

All these arguments are red herrings. M-103 does nothing to change the Criminal Code. Canada’s strong speech protections remain in place. And neither does M-103 restrict anti-bigotry to one religion. Its language, as we’ve stressed above, is fully inclusive.

As Canadian Jews we understand the need for memory. With the legacy of Jewish suffering, it has become an article of faith to commemorate persecution. What we’re seeing here, sadly, is that when it comes to oppression of Canadian Muslims, there are too many attempts by too many Canadians to forget. M-103 is an attempt to resist this collective amnesia.

When it comes to Islamophobia, we fear that too many of the testimonies at the hearings to date, coupled with the many Canadians who said they would have voted against the motion, reveal the scope of the very problem the critics are claiming does not exist.

Source: Why we need a parliamentary motion to fight Islamophobia | Toronto Star

Sheema Khan’s on the limitations of the Runnymede Trust definition and the strengths of its framework:

For the past few weeks, the House of Commons Heritage Committee has been holding public consultations regarding Motion M-103.

Appearing before the Committee at the outset, M-103 sponsor Liberal MP Iqra Khalid emphasized the need for a comprehensive study of Canadians affected by racism and religious discrimination. She spoke eloquently about the painful experiences of individuals affected by prejudice and hatred, and the need for a systematic analysis of data (as required by M-103) to combat forces that are corroding our social fabric.

These are laudable goals that should be supported by all Canadians.

However, an uproar ensued when M-103 was initially tabled, because of the inclusion of the term “Islamophobia” in the motion. There were concerns about the imposition of Sharia Law, a chill on free speech, and special protection granted to Islam. Ms. Khalid received a torrent of hate mail, including death threats. Some argued that the reaction itself was proof of widespread Islamophobia.

And yet, as the Committee has heard, no one really has a handle on the term. Many definitions exist, with widely differing breadths and scopes. Ms. Khalid’s definition: “the irrational fear of Islam and/or Muslims that leads to discrimination” is the most succinct. However, this needs to be balanced by the right to criticize and question.

The term gained currency following the 1997 report on British Muslims, entitled “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All” issued by the Runnymede Trust, a respected British think-tank. In it, Islamophobia was defined as “unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.”

The report, however, went further, by equating Islamophobia with “closed views” on Islam in eight different categories. These include Islam seen as monolithic; the “other” with no commonality with Western culture; inferior (i.e. barbaric, irrational and sexist); an enemy; and a deceitful ideology bent on political/military domination. Such closed views reject any criticism of the West by Islam, defend discrimination of Muslims, and see Islamophobia as natural. For good measure, “open views” include seeing Islam as diverse with internal debates; having shared values with other faiths; a faith worthy of respect; and a partner in the solution of shared problems.

Such a binary categorization of opinions of Islam is problematic, and was recently recognized as such by the editor of the report. However, since the term is here to stay, the Heritage Committee should devise a precise definition.

Questions and criticism about Islam are not Islamophobia. In fact, Muslims themselves engage in robust debates about modernity and Islamic practice. The cruel irony is that such debates are banned in countries that need it most.

The Heritage Committee must be careful to define Islamophobia, lest it chill the free exchange of opinions. For example, a recent online survey found that 88 per cent of Canadians believe Muslims should be treated no differently than their fellow Canadians, while 72 per cent are worried that hatred and fear of Canadian Muslims is on the rise.

Yet 56 per cent believe that “Islam suppresses women’s rights.” Are they Islamophobic? Of course not. They are entitled to their opinion. Such a critical view is understandable, given discriminatory gender practices in some Muslim cultures. Furthermore, subordination of women is often justified by theology. We need to be able to have frank discussions without the fear of being branded an “Islamophobe.”

A balance must be found between protection of free speech and protection from bigotry and hatred.

In spite of its clumsy definition of Islamophobia, The Runnymede report provides an excellent framework for identifying its deleterious effects in four areas: exclusion (from politics, employment, management); violence; discrimination (in employment and provision of services); and prejudice (in media and conversation).

In fact, this framework can be applied to comprehensive data collection and analysis for all types of racism and discrimination – which just happens to be the stated goal of the Committee.

Source: We must define Islamophobia by what it truly is – The Globe and Mail

Barbara Kay: Liberals left reeling by clear, rational criticisms of M-103

It would be far more interesting if Kay, rather than writing about the witnesses she agrees with (and which the National Post seems to be featuring more in its news coverage) would write about the one’s she disagrees with and why (similarly, those in favour of M-103 should write about the critics’ positions and the reasons for their disagreements).

Otherwise, these commentaries only reinforce the respective bubbles:

With Parliament’s passage in late March of Motion 103, which condemned “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” the Canadian Heritage Committee was tasked with a study to determine “what Canadians have to say” on the motion. Now underway, formal hearings are revealing what polls have already made clear: many Canadians find M-103 disturbing.

They dislike it because it singles out one religion for special consideration and because they don’t believe Canada is a systemically hateful nation. But they particularly fear its implications, as the principals behind M-103 — proposer MP Iqra Khalid, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, and Muslim community spokespeople — keep balking when called on to define “Islamophobia.”

(Feeding that fear: until B’nai Brith expressed public concern Monday, the newly-released Toronto District School Board’s Islamic Heritage Month Guidebook — citing input from some of the same actors engaged in promoting M-103 — defined Islamophobia as “fear, prejudice, hatred or dislike directed against Islam or Muslims, or towards Islamic politics or culture.” “Islam”? “Islamic politics or culture”? According to a TDSB representative, this ghastly mile-wide definition was chosen “in error.” Please, TDSB, a little respect for Canadians’ intelligence.)

Hearings began in June. Anti-M-103 activists, noting that the Liberals were allowed to call 36 witnesses, the NDP 12 and the Conservative Party 24, wondered if the fix was in for M-103 opposers. 

They were not heartened by Heritage Committee chairperson Hedy Fry’s on-record comment: “There is no guarantee that radical voices won’t speak at M-103 hearings.” So far, pro-M-103 voices predictably toe the Liberal party line that racism and Islamophobia are serious problems in Canada. What Fry might call “radical voices” have raised sensible, compelling challenges to this assumption, and have expressed concerns this kind of motion could eventually lead to politicians creating laws that further limit free speech.

On Sept 20, Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah (himself a victim of oppressive speech codes in his native Pakistan) testified that discouraging or limiting criticism of Islam would, in effect, most harm those secular or free-thinking Muslims who came to Canada precisely for the freedom to speak their mind to Islamic authority figures as they could not do in their countries of origin. In any case, “You cannot define (Islamophobia),” he charged, “because the word is a fraud.” According to Fatah, these bold challenges earned him such frosty treatment from “the phalanx of Liberal MPs” and “haranguing” from Fry that one MP contacted him later to apologize for the “intimidation and bullying” he had experienced.

On Sept. 27, all four individuals who testified opposed M-103.

Father Raymond J. de Souza (speaking for himself, not the Catholic Church) said it was unwise to single out any one religion, and that government should encourage theological exchange rather than impede it.

Peter Bhatti, Chair of International Christian Voice, noted that his brother was murdered in Pakistan for daring to protect Christian lives from that country’s suffocating blasphemy laws. Bhatti said anxiety over the vagueness of the term “Islamophobia” was creating distress amongst Canada’s Pakistani Christians, who see M-103 as being tantamount to a repressive blasphemy law.

Jay Cameron, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, denounced M-103’s linkage of the word “quell” to “climate of hate and fear,” as “quell” is a word normally reserved for policing riots, not words (excellent point). “Racism is something you can’t legislate against, per se, because it begins in the mind,” he pointed out.

Raheel Raza, president of the reform-oriented Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, asked, “Why are only Muslims mentioned by name?” and, “It’s not the government’s responsibility to babysit just one community.” She suggested that instead of the government deflecting attention from retrograde Islamic behaviours like honour killings and polygamy, Canada should take a leadership role in encouraging a return to a “free thinking” model of Islam, once a widespread norm.

The Liberals were back-footed by these forcefully argued dissents. Various Liberal MPs tried to “explain” the motion, muddying the “Islamophobia” waters further and monopolizing so much time that Conservative MP David Anderson accused them of “filibustering their time.”

One witness who earned the right to testify was shunted to “standby” status as a replacement in the unlikely event of a dropout. Major (Ret’d) Russ Cooper is a highly decorated combat veteran of the first Gulf War, recognized by the Air Force for courage and leadership in his role. The M-103 pushback campaign was kicked off by Cooper’s national anti-M-103 petition drive, which garnered 27,000 signatures and was then leveraged by other outlets to gain 200,000 signatures. Cooper’s prepared testimony to the hearings, which may never be heard formally, is a model of reason, clarity and high intelligence. You can read it in an online Canadian Heritage Committee briefing note. And the pith of his argument can be viewed on this concise YouTube video.

Stay tuned. Far from the slam-dunk feel-goody gesture it was meant to be, M-103 is looking more and more like a pivotal political and cultural moment in Canadian history.

Source: Barbara Kay: Liberals left reeling by clear, rational criticisms of M-103 | National Post

Robert Fulford: A history of ‘Islamophobia,’ a word of dubious value

I always find it surprising that some people can can devote column space to the word Islamophobia without any discussion of the real world issues of discrimination and prejudice that many Canadian and other Western Muslims have experienced. This is essentially a more sophisticated version of the earlier commentary by Candice Malcolm (M-103 weaponizes what a ‘phobia’ is).

A cop-out IMO. One could argue that an excessive focus on the word Islamophobia is in itself a reflection of Islamophobia (or if you wish, anti-Muslim attitudes):

Every era has special words that ignite resentful arguments and reveal difficult emotions. There’s no doubt that Islamophobia is our word, a painful term that’s hard to avoid.

It functions as a rhetorical weapon. Whoever uses it (and many do) is trying to convict someone else of chauvinism and a thoughtless prejudice against Muslims and Islam. It’s a protective word, a shield against Muslims being damaged by criticism and argument.

Pascal Bruckner, the French philosopher, who has spent a great deal of time working on this issue, summarizes his opinion in a few words: “There’s No Such Thing as Islamophobia. Critique of religion is a fundamental Western right, not an illness.”

A phobia is a medical term, an anxiety disorder stirred up by irrational fear of heights, or perhaps spiders or snakes and other repellent creatures. Few would confess to feeling that way about Islam. Fewer still would seek treatment of their negative reactions to Islam.

Islam is a titanic force in this era and we talk about it and write about it often. But we hardly know how to express ourselves. We stutter and stammer when it comes up and sometimes we may use words like Islamophobia to censor ourselves. From Barack Obama down we have wrestled with attempts to define Islam or interpret it. Obama actually said that the Islamic State is not Islamic, as if he would know. He said Islam is a religion of love and peace, to which the only honest reply is: Sometimes Yes, sometimes No.

Our thinking on this subject can be affected by a sense of guilt, conscious or unconscious. Many Muslims are from places conquered and then dominated by European imperialists. Bruckner has investigated this fact in his book, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism.

“Nothing is more Western than hatred of the West,” Bruckner says. “All of modern thought can be reduced to mechanical denunciations of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination.”

The hard truth is that many non-Muslims find it difficult to speak about (or to) Muslims. Our intentions are confusing, even to us. We hope for good relations with Muslims who live among us and we assume that they are as appalled as we are by violence committed in the name of their religion. We also hope they know that Islam, though sacred to them, is also the scourge of millions when it’s interpreted literally by blindly self-righteous mass murderers.

We know they seem more sensitive, in a way, than others. They can’t easily shrug off humiliation. Le Monde in Paris pointed out that Charlie Hebdo, the satire magazine, devoted only four per cent of its covers to ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed; meanwhile, the same artists had been mocking Jesus, Moses, the Dalai Lama, and the various popes for 40 years. But Islamist killers were so offended by the four per cent that, in January 2015, they assassinated most of the staff.

Le Monde’s comparison means nothing. The killers could reason that Jesus, the popes and the rest are of little importance. The Prophet, on the other hand, is a crucial figure in their daily lives and they must protect him from humiliation.

Bruckner is of course right when he says that critique of religion is a fundamental Western right, but committed Muslims are not entirely in the West. They are in a larger place, the world they imagine, where no such right exists. Perhaps they know that Christianity and Judaism broke into pieces because their rules permitted serious, long-ranging criticism of their most basic principles.

The word Islamophobia originated in the early 20th century. An early use was in a French biography of Muhammad (“islamophobie”). Sometimes it was used internally, within Islam, to identify a fear of Islam felt by liberal Muslims and Muslim feminists, rather than a fear or dislike of Muslims by non-Muslims. It was given an official imprimatur in 2004 when Kofi Annan, then the UN Secretary-General, said the word Islamophobia had to be coined in order to “take account of increasingly widespread bigotry.” From there on it was part of language, a word of dubious value.

Source: National Post | Full Comment » Full…

M-103 weaponizes what a ‘phobia’ is: Candice Malcolm

If only the federal Conservatives and conservative media had as much sense as the Ontario Conservative leader Patrick Brown (“hate is hate”).

The definition issue is a ‘blue herring’ as there is the existing definition of the Runnymede Trust and the Canadian Heritage committee will no doubt develop a working definition (as was done for antisemitism):

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder, defined by an excessive and irrational fear of an object or situation.

It’s a medical condition, and clinical psychologists study the impact of this persistent and often debilitating illness.

But what was once a scientific term of measurable phenomenon, has now been manipulated for political purposes.

First, it was used pejoratively to describe those who oppose gay marriage.

Some activists learned that calling their opponents “homophobic” was more effective than getting into the weeds of the historic definition of marriage — and why it ought to be expanded to include same-sex relationships.

The tactic was successful, and other groups began using the “phobia” card to stifle debate and paint their opponents as bigots.

Today’s “phobias” no longer describe an irrational fear or anxiety disorder, but a person with the wrong opinion about an issue.

Homophobia, for example, is now defined as “a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality … often related to religious beliefs.”

At least homophobia has a common definition.

Other new phobias, such as “Islamophobia”, have no agreed upon definition.

The term “Islamophobia” was popularized in the 1990s by a front group for the Muslim Brotherhood that promotes Sharia law.

It was introduced to promote victimhood amongst Muslims.

A former adherent of this group, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, now rejects Islamist ideology and says this of Islamophobia: “This loathsome term is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliché conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics.”

The ultimate purpose was to advance the Muslim Brotherhood’s mission — to impose Sharia law — by silencing critics and stifling free debate.

Islamophobia is more than just a new buzzword.

Its origins are tied to organizations that advocate for Islamist theocracy and to countries that impose barbaric blasphemy laws against those who criticize Islam.

This didn’t stop our Parliament, led by Liberal MP Irqa Khalid, from passing a motion specifically condemning “Islamophobia” earlier this year.

Conservative MPs offered an olive branch, suggesting the motion remove the term “Islamophobia” and replace it with a universal condemnation of “all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination.”

The Liberals rejected this compromise.

The heritage committee is now studying ways to implement a “whole-of-government” approach to combatting this vague, politicized concept.

But Canada already has laws on the books covering a range of crimes that could be motivated by hatred and bigotry.

In fact, Canada has some of the English-speaking world’s most draconian rules prohibiting “hate speech” — another often vague and politicized concept.

Some hate speech laws are administered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which many see as Canada’s own version of a kangaroo court.

Canadians should be worried that M-103 may provide such bodies with more ammunition for their social justice crusades, and more power to stomp on our freedoms and impose penalties for “wrongthink”.

That’s the thing about M-103. At best, it’s sloppy and redundant grandstanding — a waste of time and resources.

At worst, it’s an exercise in the weaponization of words — a deliberate effort to stifle speech and carve out new immunity for Islamists trying to impose their religion on others.

Either way, most Canadians rightly reject this nonsense.

An Angus Reid poll found 42% of Canadians would have voted against M-103, with only 29% in support.

A mere 12% said it would be effective.

If only our Liberal government had as much common sense.

Source: M-103 weaponizes what a ‘phobia’ is | MALCOLM | Columnists | Opinion | Toronto S

Islamophobia is not colour blind: Paradkar

Good commentary on the intersection between religious and ethnic/racist discrimination and useful reminder of the Runnymede Trust’s definition of Islamophobia:

This week, the House of Commons heritage committee enters the second phase of M-103, the motion to combat Islamophobia, and begins a study on systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada.

Its report card will hopefully contain two outcomes: Strategies to combat systemic racism, and a definition of Islamophobia that will place it in the context of Canadian laws as well as overall racism in the country.

For the latter, committee members would do well to examine a new paper out of Rice University in Texas titled, “The Racialization of Islam in the United States: Islamophobia, Hate Crimes, and ‘Flying while Brown.’ ”

“We often hear that because Muslims are not a race, people cannot be racist for attacking Muslims,” sociologist and study author Craig Considine is quoted saying in the University’s media statement. “This argument does not stack up. It is a simplistic way of thinking that overlooks the role that race plays in Islamophobic hate crimes.”

Islamophobia is not colour blind.

In the U.S., some 30 per cent of Muslims describe themselves as white, 23 per cent as Black, 21 per cent as Asian, 6 per cent as Hispanic, and 19 per cent as other or mixed race, according to the Pew Research Center in Washington.

Yet, nearly all Muslim racial or ethnic groups have higher odds of reporting one or more types of perceived discrimination than white Muslims, a 2016 study showed.

“Islamophobia does not belong in the realm of ‘rational’ criticism of Islam or Muslims; it is often discrimination against people who look different to the majority of U.S. citizens,” Considine says in the paper.

If “Driving While Black” is anti-Black racial profiling, “Flying While Brown” is anti-Muslim racial profiling leading to humiliating searches and detentions.

In any case, both are ineffectual at stopping crime or terrorism, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Canada has seen hate crimes against Muslims increase by 253 per cent in four years, according to a Statistics Canada report, with 45 crimes reported in 2012 and 159 in 2015.

I doubt the haters were religious scholars who had a rational critique of Islam.

Yet, attempting to condemn Islamophobia itself is seen as an attempt to stifle free speech and any criticism of the religion.

Casual anti-Islamic expressions are dotted with annoyance of visible religious markers such as head scarves on women, or an intangible fear of Sharia law, supposedly barrelling down on poor, unsuspecting us to blanket our society in darkness.

This fear that Muslims are conspiring to either destroy or dominate the West explains the hostile reception to M-103, which was a motion to speak out against discrimination.

This, although Liberal MP Iqra Khalid who brought forward the motion said quite clearly, “M-103 is not an attempt to create Sharia. I vow to oppose any law that threatens our multicultural society.”

The non-binding motion passed in March this year.

Reasonable people would shun the idea of violence against anyone based on their race or religious belief. But what is a fair critique of religion and what constitutes hate speech?

I see Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism against predominantly brown and black-skinned people but with an added edge. Not just of superiority but also the righteous anger of fending off a menacing culture incapable of compatibility with others. It’s the conflation of all Muslims with terrorists, or impatience with cultural practices, or anger against those seen as hailing from a backward culture incapable of debate within itself.

In its 1997 report “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All,” a British left-leaning think tank, The Runnymede Trust, defined Islamophobia as the unfounded and close-minded fear and/or hatred of Islam, Muslims or Islamic/Muslim culture.

It identified eight components of Islamophobia, one of which included seeing it as violent, threatening or supportive of terrorism. Another included viewing it as primitive or barbaric or sexist. Using anti-Muslim hostility to exclude or discriminate against Muslims was, of course, one of the components.

Stereotyping has a lot to do with this.

Considine found that out of more than 1,000 Hollywood films depicting Arabs, 932 negatively stereotyped them. For example, Arabs/Muslims were constructed as the ominous figure: “the bearded, dark-skinned, turban-wearing terrorist guided by perceived archaic religious practices.”

This would help explain why a dark-skinned, turban-wearing Sikh man such as NDP leadership hopeful Jagmeet Singh had to fend off a ranting Islamophobe at a campaign rally. Or why a Inderjit Singh Mukker, a 53-year-old Sikh taxi driver near Chicago was beaten and bruised by a man who called him “Bin Laden” and told him to go back to his own country.

You don’t have to be Muslim to be vilified. Just being Muslim-like is enough. This is textbook racialization.

Source: Islamophobia is not colour blind: Paradkar | Toronto Star

Iqra Khalid urges MPs to take unified approach in Islamophobia study

Will be interesting to see the degree to which the Conservatives play a constructive or obstructive role in the Committee study – and whether the Liberals resist partisanship in their approach.

Their choice of witnesses will be as revealing as their interventions (don’t have the complete list to be able to assess the respective balance but the inclusion of Tarek Fatah on the Conservative list suggests that their approach may not have changed):

The inclusion of the phrase Islamophobia in a hotly debated motion passed by the House of Commons last year was meant as an example of forms of racism, the Liberal MP who sponsored the proposal said Monday.

Iqra Khalid told the House of Commons heritage committee that her motion calling for parliamentarians to condemn Islamophobia and for a study on systematic racism and religious discrimination was about the study itself that began Monday.

“It uses the example of Islamophobia to make a larger point about the problem of all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination — that we have to find ways to tackle that broad problem in Canada as a whole,” Khalid said.

Khalid said she was motivated to introduce M-103 after hearing several stories of racist acts against different faiths in the fall of 2016. When she looked into the issue, she found the statistics to provide context to the problem were lacking and something had to be done.

“The objective of the motion was to bring forward this study, it is upon this committee as a whole to take that unified approach to study the issue, to work with each other to find those recommendations to assist us as policy makers,” she said.

Khalid’s motion passed in a vote of 201-91 last spring. It called on MPs to recognize something had to be down to “quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” and to that end, the House ought to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and direct the heritage committee to study the issue, including how better to gather hate crime data.

The conflict around the motion centered largely around the word Islamophobia, setting off protests on Parliament Hill and arguments across the country over the meaning and implications of the phrase.

Khalid told the committee she defines it as “irrational fear or hatred of Muslims or Islam” that leads to discrimination.

But opponents say the word it is vague and essentially means criticism against Islam of any kind is forbidden, and some saw Khalid’s motion as the first step in criminalizing that criticism. Conservative news outlet Rebel Media seized on that issue with gusto, forcing it into the Conservative leadership race as contenders were grilled on their positions.

The Conservatives had sought to remove the phrase and instead broaden the motion to refer to multiple faiths.

They lost over objections from the Liberals that they would be watering down Khalid’s effort. Several Conservatives raised their own motion in quizzing Khalid on Monday about her intentions.

“Both of us would have liked to have found ourselves on the same side of the vote in the House on the issue,” Conservative David Anderson said.

“We are sir,” Khalid replied.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she had never seen as much “fomented anger, concern and misconception” around a House of Commons motion as she heard around Khalid’s.

She and other MPs told Khalid they’d received calls that the motion would lead to Islamic religious law, known as Sharia, being introduced in Canada or that it would give Islam a protected status in Canada greater than that of other religions.

Khalid was asked to directly address some of the specific concerns, but didn’t tackle them all, saying while there were misconceptions, it was time to move forward.

“The conversation that Canadians had over the past number of months was a very important conversation,” Khalid said.

“It is a great way to lead up to this study.”

Source: Iqra Khalid urges MPs to take unified approach in Islamophobia study – The Globe and Mail