Shocked this could happen in Canada? Don't be
On Sunday, the deepest worries and fears of Muslims in the West were confirmed yet again, as a 20-year-old rammed his car into five members of a Canadian Muslim family in London, Ontario. Police have stated the attack, which killed four of the five individuals, was premeditated and that the attacker, Nathaniel Veltman targeted the family because of their faith.
This explicit anti-Muslim attack should not be treated as a one-off, rather it should be viewed as part of and connected to the growing Islamophobic ecosystem sustained and supported by those in power.
It is the logical outcome of decades of discriminatory and racist rhetoric from politicians and the media that dehumanise Muslims. It occurred because perpetrators of these deadly attacks feel supported and validated by those in power who promote anti-Muslim tropes and institute policies that subject Muslims to collective punishment.
"It is the logical outcome of decades of discriminatory and racist rhetoric from politicians and the media that dehumanise Muslims"
While Canada is often presented as tolerant, welcoming, and a multicultural safe-haven in comparison to its southern neighbour, this image fails to take into account - or completely ignores - the growing white nationalism and Islamophobia in the country.
This is the same country where a non-binding motion calling on the Canadian government to condemn Islamophobia and recognise the need to "quell the public climate of fear and hate," was met with hostility, as elected officials claimed Motion-103 would threaten free speech.
The motion eventually passed but 91 MPs voted against it, including a number of politicians who are today expressing solidarity with Canada's Muslims. These MPs launched a fierce opposition against the motion with some suggesting that it was singling out Islam for "special treatment," and others stating it would lead to the implementation of sharia law.
Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, who introduced M-103 just weeks after the deadly 2017 Québec City Mosque shooting, was subject to a barrage of threatening emails for her position. It was so bad that she asked her "staff to lock the office behind me as I now fear for their safety… and asked them not to answer all phone calls so they don't hear the threats, insults and unbelievable amount of hate shouted at them and myself."
This is the same country where in 2017, a bill was introduced to prohibit those with face-coverings from receiving government services. The religious neutrality bill, or Bill 62, passed in Québec and requires people to show their faces in order to give or receive public services, such as taking the bus or using the library, or getting healthcare and education.
In an October 2017 survey, over 62 percent of those surveyed "strongly supported" the legislation. Québec is also the province that instituted Bill 21, a law that bans public workers in positions of "authority" from wearing religious symbols, specifically while they are on duty. The law, which is a clear violation of freedom of religion, prevents schoolteachers, police officers, and judges from wearing religious symbols, and effectively marginalises Muslim women who wear the hijab from the public space.
Québec is headed by François Legault who rejected a proposal to have January 29 declared a Day of Action Against Islamophobia, claiming there was "no Islamophobia in Québec." He said this two years after the shocking and deadly Québec City mosque attack, which remains the worst mass murder in a house of worship in Canadian history. Following rightful outrage, he backtracked shortly afterwards, instead claiming (incorrectly) that discrimination exists but is not widespread.
"This is the same country where anti-Muslim racism has been a legitimate campaign strategy"
That horrific mosque massacre involved a white nationalist gunman inspired by anti-Muslim media commentators and politicians. He gunned down 53 Muslims as they prayed, killing six people and injuring 19 others. Prior to this violence, the mosque had been vandalized with a pig's head wrapped in cellophane, bows, ribbon, and a card that said "bonne appétit."
This is the same country where anti-Muslim racism has been a legitimate campaign strategy. Take for example the 2015 general elections when then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper capitalised on the growing anti-Muslim sentiment among the Canadian public to secure a victory for the Conservatives.
Instead of condemning such hatred and prejudicial views, he fed them by insinuating Canadian Muslims were involved in terrorism and instituting a police hotline to report what it called "barbaric cultural practices." Such actions inflame the bigotry that exists, creating a toxic and dangerous environment that puts the lives of millions in grave danger.
This is the same country that hosts chapters of European far-right white nationalist street movements including Soldiers of Odin and PEGIDA, along with home-grown anti-Muslim groups such as RISE Canada, whose members in 2017 marched to a mosque in downtown Toronto and protested against M-103 while holding banners saying "ban Islam."
This is the same country where Black Muslims have already been the target of a slew of hate crimes in 2021. There were three reported hate-motivated incidents in the span of eight days in January of this year in Edmonton, Alberta. One incident saw a man target two Black Muslim women (a mother and her daughter); the man ripped off the mother's hijab while he called the women the N-word and told them to "go back to your country."
This is the same country that is home to Rebel Media, a far-right media network that serves as a global platform for white nationalism and Islamophobia. Its former commentators include Faith Goldy and Tommy Robinson.
The above mentioned examples are just a snapshot of the increasing anti-Muslim hostility in Canada. This environment isn't the result of fringe groups or voices, it is the direct outcome of making Islamophobia part and parcel of society, where words that vilify Muslims are simply rendered "opinions" and "criticism", defended by the notion of "free speech".
Anti-Muslim racism is accepted and even applauded among mainstream media and elected officials. This environment otherizes Muslims, creates public support for programmes and policies that single out the community, and makes Muslims targets for attacks.
So again, Nathaniel Veltman's murder of a Canadian Muslim family must not be viewed as a standalone, one-off incident. Just like the Québec City mosque shooting before it, this anti-Muslim attack was nurtured by society's embrace of Islamophobia, a system in which those with power and platforms dehumanise Muslims, characterise them as "invaders" and describe them as terrorists, essentially rendering them guilty for simply existing.
That dehumanisation leads to violence. Veltman may have driven the car but it wasn't just his foot on the accelerator. The brewing Islamophobic ecosystem pushed that car into motion.
Mobashra Tazamal is a researcher on Islamophobia at The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Independent, Middle East Eye, and AltMuslimah.
Follow her on Twitter: @mobbiemobes
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