Too many Canadians don’t recognize the Islamophobia in their country

Despite numerous high-profile incidents and a stream of everyday instances, some Canadians still ignore or deny anti-Muslim hate

Muslim women check their cell phones outside Concordia University in Montreal, Wednesday, March 1, 2017, following a bomb threat. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Muslim women check their cell phones outside Concordia University in Montreal, Wednesday, March 1, 2017, following a bomb threat. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Only six in 10 Canadians think Islamophobia is a problem in their country. For anyone concerned with combatting racism, this is alarming, particularly when coupled with the 38 per cent of respondents to Maclean’s Canada Project survey, in partnership with Abacus Data, who somewhat or strongly disagree that it’s an issue at all.

A fundamental requirement for dismantling discrimination is recognition. So it’s unacceptable that so many Canadians think Islamophobia does not exist—or have a flippant understanding of it. These attitudes disrupt the work of individuals attempting to combat racism, and endanger people by default.

    Like anti-black racism, Islamophobia is an insidious, irrefutable issue in Canadian society. Denying its existence suggests white Canadians remain isolated from their Muslim neighbours, leading them to treat them as an alien group. “I think that despite a lot of progress, post 9/11, many Canadians still view Muslims as a homogenous group with only one foot inside the Canadian cultural identity,” says actor, filmmaker and lawyer Arsalan Shirazi. “And any time you can define so many people as the ‘other,’ you can start to strip away the complexity of a community, which allows you to scapegoat and vilify.”

    You can see this playing out throughout Canadian society. Take the reaction to a private member’s motion tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. M-103 was designed to “eliminate Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination” and calls on the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.” Conservatives attempted to remove the term Islamophobia, with Conservative MP David Anderson claiming the word lacks meaning and the bill could inhibit freedom of speech. But this argument simply fuels the discrimination that the bill attempted to combat, sometimes leading to hysteria, as Faisal Kutty, a professor at Osgoode Hall, has argued. Hateful rhetoric and death threats have been directed against Khalid, including accusations of being a terrorist sympathizer. We’ve also seen a Quran destroyed at a protest against religious accommodation at the Peel District School Board earlier this year. Moreover, there was the Quebec City mosque attack in March, a mass shooting during evening prayers that left six Muslim Canadians dead. Following the attacks, we finally saw something of a national conversation around Islamophobia. Yet Muslim Canadians, academics and activists have been highlighting these issues for decades.

    RELATED: In Quebec City, a moment of painful truth

    Indeed, plenty of work has already been done to capture, contextualize and fully understand what Islamophobia means. A paper published in 2011 by the Ontario Human Rights Commission highlights the “negative stereotyping and discrimination as a result of pre-existing perceptions of Muslims as ‘different’ from the rest of Canadian society, along with negative associations of their communities with violence and terrorism” in the decade following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. These problems even occur in institutions that pledge tolerance and inclusion, like Canadian universities. Following the Quebec City mosque attack, Muslim students publicly recounted incidents that are part of their daily reality: the defacing of posters for a conference on Islam at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology; and the distributing of anti-Muslim flyers and insults on student election materials at McGill University, the University of Calgary and the University of Ottawa. A student at Simon Fraser University was told to remove her hijab. Last year, a woman had her hijab pulled, and was punched and spat on in a grocery store in London, Ont. (That case has been complicated by a trial that has been suspended as the person charged, who required a Farsi translator at trial, was deemed not mentally fit enough to stand trial.)

    We don’t need more evidence—yet there’s still denial by many white Canadians. Exercising privilege in this way has clear detrimental effects, argues Tim Wise, an anti-racism writer and activist. “That white Americans don’t by and large see what people of colour see doesn’t mean that white folks are horrible people, of course,” he writes in an essay called “White Denial.” “What it does suggest is a degree of isolation and provincialism that should lead us to think twice before pontificating about a subject that we simply don’t have to know nearly as well as those who are the targets of it.”

    This is why “recognition of Muslims as part of the fabric of this country is so critical,” argues Shirazi. Many Canadians have the luxury of not acknowledging racism, and they’ve done so to the extent that white denial has become its own narrative. Any attempt to ignore the problem—or treat its victims as “other”—undercuts any effort toward inclusion in the next 150 years.

    This post has been updated to clarify details about a trial in London, Ont.

    The Canada Project


    Too many Canadians don’t recognize the Islamophobia in their country

    1. So uh, only white Canadians deny the evils of “Islamophobia”? Not Canadians who are black, Asian, Indian, etc?

      • As an unprivileged Chinese Canadian, I would like to point out the typical Liberal elitist mentality from this author. By stating Canadians like myself who don’t recognize Islamophobia is a problem as “unacceptable”, she fully supports motions like M103 to silence my views. That’s because elitist Liberals like Ms Williams believe possessing a phobia is a criminal act. But not all phobias, just the ones elitist Liberals deem as crime worthy. So for example, an Islamophobic lesbian who fears for her life is committing a crime, but a homophobic Muslim is not.

        • By not mentioning Canadians of colour like yourself who don’t regard Islamophobia as a major issue, the author of this piece is effectively erasing you. This sort of microaggression is an act of violence.

          Also throughout this piece, the author is clearly “othering” white Canadians. This is a clear case of whitephobia.

    2. Seems to be a typo.
      Islamism is the problem. There is no phobia involved.

    3. Islamophobia is an invention of the media and the government. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim. Furthermore, they do not integrate, but live in ghettos in our cities, and soon demand that we follow their customs and laws instead of adapting to the country which has given them shelter.

      • “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim.”

        What a load of crap. So Air India was brought down by Muslims? The FLQ were Muslim? The IRA? Alexandre Bissonnette (the named suspect in the attack on a mosque in Quebec)? Just to name a handful from a very long list.

        At this point in time, Muslim terrorists are grabbing most of the headlines – but others are also committing terrorist acts. The balance could shift to another group at any point. Terrorism is far from being unique to any one culture or religion.

        Think about this: There are over one million Muslims in Canada. If just 1% of them were terrorists, we would have an army of 10,000 terrorists roaming the country. So why aren’t we daily under seige? Because reality differs significantly from the imaginary world that Islamophobes inhabit.

    4. Boy you sure are out to lunch, give your head a shake, you are living in lalaland.

      First, anyone who does not like Muslims is not a racist or an Islamaphobe, they are a bigot. You can not be racist against a religion, a religion can and is usually made up of many races. And Islamaphobia is not a fear of Muslims but of Islam. To add to that a phobia is an irrational fear of something and it is not irrational to fear Islam with all the horrors going on in the world in the name of Islam. Plus Islam is not a thing (as a fear of something) it is a religion.

      Second, you should learn how M-103 really came about, through an e-petition based only on stopping Islamaphobia ( it never mentioned anything about other religions or all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.

      Thirdly, although the horrible attack of the Mosque you make note of is not acceptable lets not forget all the horrible things being done by Islamist terrorists daily all over the world. How about the Muslim women in Scarborough who tried to attack white people in a Canadian Tire store just recently, no main stream coverage of that is there, or the so called honor killings in Canada.

      Although it has been stated in another post that not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslim is incorrect, all terrorists are not Muslim, but most terrorists are Muslim.

      What we need is a critical discussion of the problems created by Islamists and Islamofacsism. Not a cry of Islamophobia which only serves to stop any rational discussion. This is a Muslim problem and Muslims who do want to live here in peace and in a secular state, (I call them moderate Muslims, they only take the good from their religion) must face up to this fact and be courageous and speak out.

      Examples of these courageous people are Tarek Fatah, Farzanna Hassan, Asra Nomani, Rahell Raza, Hasan Mahmud, I could go on. Unfortunately, for many Muslims who are trying to make a difference and speak out then have to go into hiding and hire bodyguards.

      And I have to agree with the comment about elitist Liberals, they will for sure sell us down the river without a paddle. All just to not hurt some ones feelings and not loss any votes. I usually have my feelings hurt everyday and no one cares about that. Stop being babies.

      And where is the liberal media in all this, not reporting crimes done by Islamists right here in Canada against others including other Muslims. This is no way to protect people especially Muslim women and children.

      It is unfortunate but true that people will gather and live where there are others like them instead of integrating. I can understand the comfort in this, but we must do something to help them, We can see our private immigration (Syrians brought over by private individuals and groups are doing much better than the government plan). How can you expect people who arrive here who do not speak English or French to get a job.

      Enough said for now.

    5. What many people are trying to call “Islamophobia” is merely anger at governments for failing to get their heads out of the sand regarding the very real problems associated with Islamic immigration.
      Back in the early 1980’s, I worked with a number of German immigrants. Even back then, they spoke of the problems Germany was having with Turkish “guest workers.” By that time, the second generation of Turkish immigrants was emerging, along with a trend. It was very uncommon for even those born in Germany to consider themselves German. The third and fourth generation still think of themselves as Turkish or Syrian or Libyan. They do not call themselves German. This is borne out in a recent National Geographic photo essay where long-term French and German Muslims simply don’t consider those nations, that have given them lives far better than they could imagine in the Middle East, home. This pattern is repeated in The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
      Whether it’s the majority of Muslims who adamantly refuse integration, or a minority, is largely immaterial. The fact is still the same- the importation of large numbers of Muslims is the importation of intractable, expensive, and possibly permanent social problems. Why would we knowingly and intentionally do this? In Canada, why would we go to the trouble of importing large numbers of people who make the French look downright cooperative?
      The social ills that come with Muslim immigration are pretty easy to examine, if one has access to something like an internet, or similar device. One only has to look around almost any Canadian neighborhood to see the differences between different immigrant groups. Most immigrants are Canadianized fairly quickly, and the first generation born here tends to see themselves as Canadians. This phenomenon is far less prevalent among Muslims. It’s a basic fact that should not be ignored, but the reality is that governments are literally tripping over themselves to ignore that simply so as to appear to be progressive and inclusive. This isn’t leadership. This is something else entirely. And it rightly angers people, just as it rightly angers people to be called Islamophobic for simply observing and re-stating basic facts.

    6. Unfortunately, Muslims are the authors of their own reputation. When ISIS, Boko Haram, and all the other groups began terrorising the rest of the world as “radicalised Muslims” the Muslim faith did not interfere. As far as I can tell there would be interference if it were not for the presence of the west to assist in fighting these jihadists. Look in almost any corner of the world and where there is conflict there is a “radicalised Mulim” fighting against something. Until the religion itself steps up and puts a stop to it, they will be viewed differently than the rest of us peace loving citizens.

    7. Britain has come to recognize the problem of Islam – of allowing immigrants into the country with no regard for the future. Native Canadians should also be able to recognize the potential problems of strangers bringing trinkets. But of course, for some, the appeal of those trinkets – and more interesting gifts – can be hard to resist. We see that Trudeau is bound to win from his association with potential immigrants who can bear children and fill the labour market, even to the point of allowing a problem defined by a word ending in phobia to enter our legal system. Ask yourselves – who else is benefiting from allowing Muslims to keep accusing us of racism or intolerance? Yes, those are better words, if they have to use such terms at all to describe what they think they have experienced.

      The problem for Canadians – long-term European background Canadians to begin with – is that there appears to be nothing to bring them together, to stand up to this defiance by Muslims so willing to brand all of us. As I read the comments here, I can related to fragments of what is being said, but not to the entire message of any one person. It is we, Canadians, who are fragmented, at the mercy of a group with such a firm identity and such power that they can make such claims as that word they invented, that is in reality, meaningless in that context. I’m pretty sure the “irrational” fear that Canadians are supposed to have is actually a very rational one for many – that we stand to lose jobs to newcomers, decent healthcare in an overburdened system, as well as our very culture – our Christmas traditions – broken down into Holiday celebrations, and many more that have become ingrained in our society. Note how the writer of that article thinks we are unaware of racism. Has she not heard of the underground railroad?

      Canada has been in existence for many years now – as we know – 150 years, officially, and many more before that, when indigenous people inhabited it. What will the 200 year celebration look like, I wonder.

    8. islamaphobia only exists in the liberal minded person in this country the rest of the country recognizes the full view of what is happening in this country the only hate crimes on the rise are those against jew but the liberals still cannot see past their noses and fall for the whining of muslims when its the liberals own fake refugees their muslim war criminals that flooded this country that are committing the crimes across this nation not only in our public schools but our military recruitment offices and on our streets we see what is taught and what they imans preach right on the streets and their hate propaganda can be picked up anywhere and the liberal party buries it up and covers it up and quashes all the stories in the liberal bought and paid for media even now they have gag orders on just how many illegal aliens flood our borders daily now its good weather not protecting our borders is not protecting the people and its the liberals party of canada that is guilty of treasonist acts against every canadian person and its country and are traitors to canada its not islamaphobia to see and read what is going on but we also know exactly what is going on in europe with all ther killings raper murders selling of slaves and sex slaves hell even honour killings here in canada and beheadings being taught in st thomas schools and mosques and tossing of gays off buildings in malton no its not islamaphobia to speak out on the truth and we all know islam is not a relgion but a political agenda and its time this country woke up as the liberals have allowed this govt to be infiltrated by them and their agenda we now have a 2 tier legal system 1 for canadians 1 for them and that is not right its our laws they assimilate into our laws or they can leave we do not make a separate set of laws to accomodate any dam cult or relgion

      • First: Learn to use punctuation and upper-case characters. It will make your diatribe easier to read and some of us might actually get all the way through it (I gave up pretty early on).

        Second: Articles on this very site this week trash your claim that “the only hate crimes on the rise are those against jew”:

        There are probably other things in there that I would dispute, or possibly even agree with – but I just couldn’t be bothered to read your stream-of-consciousness writing style.

    9. Islam is not a race so racism does not apply. Islamophobia does not exist, because concerns about Islamic ideology are genuine. How about a Christopher Hitchens quote.
      ISLAMOPHOBIA ” A word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons.” Islam should change or leave. Civilized countries are being fooled by this nonsense. Magazines that publish this type of propaganda should not be in business. When do we pull the plug?

      • Sorry, it was Andrew Cummins and not Hitchens that said ” Islamaphobia is a word created be fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons”. Even Sam Harris apologized for mistakenly attributing it to Hitch.
        Interesting that once I tried to use that quote on a CBC comment section and it was censored, which just proves elitist left is blind and deaf to the problems created by Islamists.

    10. Ms. Williams writes, “horrifyingly, last year, a woman had her hijab pulled, was punched and spat on in a grocery store in London, Ont.” What she doesn’t say (and what almost no one in the mainstream media reported) is that when the perpetrator appeared in court last August, she required a Farsi interpreter: an Iranian Muslim attacked a woman in a hijab, but Williams nonetheless uses this as an example of Islamophobia perpetuated by white Canadians because it fit her narrative. People should demand that Maclean’s correct this falsehood and Ms. Williams and any Maclean’s editors involved owe readers an apology for, at the very least, not researching the facts.