Are Canadians More Racist?

(Editor’s note: Pacifismactivism wrote this piece upon having done the tawdry task some bloggers avoid of collecting names and conducting personal interviews. All interviewed parties have courageously signed-on to have their words put in print and have done so, under no illusions as to the narrative of the piece.)

Considerable political events and social phenomena that have recently occurred across Canada indicate a growing fear and hatred of Muslims. Arguably the most distinguished of these events is the federal government’s appeal of a recent court ruling that struck down the policy forbidding women from covering their faces during their Oath of Citizenship. The policy was overturned by a Muslim woman wishing to wear her niqab, which covers the entire face, during her oath. Prime Minister Harper’s initial statement on the matter was that “This is a society that is transparent, open and where people are equal, and that is just. I think we find that offensive; that is not acceptable to Canadians and we will proceed with action on that.”

A day after Harper’s statement, in a press conference, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander compared the government’s appeal to the condemnation of female violence, polygamy, kidnapping, and other “barbaric acts.” The term “barbaric” is found in the Conservative Party’s “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act,” which is expected to be passed shortly. This bill has been denounced by Green Party leader Elizabeth May as making things illegal that are “already illegal,” such as polygamy and kidnapping.

“Almost everything mentioned is already illegal and there are already legal measures to prohibit those things from taking place,” asserted Zainab Bint Younus, a Canadian Muslim writer who co-founded, which features writers who bring attention to issues Muslims are facing, and is a writer and editor for several publications. Younus lives in British-Columbia, and has chosen to wear the niqab in public for the last seven years. “You’re forced to deal with my words, and what I write, and how I behave. Not what I look like or how much cleavage I’m showing.”

The same day Alexander made his statements, scared and angry calls to the city of Shawinigan about its plan to rezone an area in order to build a mosque poured in. Residents believed that it would be a center for radicalization. A day later, the city canceled the plans to rezone the area, citing those concerned citizens as the motivation.

“After 9/11, Canadians responded in a great way, we had an influx of support from society at large. It was after the Conservatives got in that an anti-Muslim agenda was pushed, and making it seem like Muslims are a threat to Canada,” said Younus.

Houda Hatem and Roba Chaachouh are two young Canadian Muslim women who wear hijabs, the commonly seen Muslim veil. Hatem is an 18 year old natural sciences student at Cégep Gérald-Godin who has worn the hijab since she was 15, and Chaachouh is a 24 year old pharmacology graduate from Université de Montréal who has worn the hijab for over two years. Hatem, Chaachouh and Younus alike see their veils as a sign of modesty, an important virtue for both Muslim men and women. It is a sign of their faith, and a part of their identity.

Although Hatem and Chaachouh haven’t personally experienced worse than a few stares and some awkward conversations, they have both known people who have experienced discrimination. “A lady came up to me on the metro and said ‘Your hijab is your right, fight for it!’,” said Chaachouh, although she suggested the majority of people who dislike Muslims probably make assumptions and don’t bother approaching them in public. One man in public told her, during the tensions over the Quebec Charter of Values in 2013, he hoped the charter was passed so she could “be free of her hijab.”

University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research
Popularity of religious attire in the Middle East — University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research

The idea that women are being forced to wear the hijab or the niqab is alluded to in the same press conference by Minister Chris Alexander. Alexander said he worries about how “some of those defending the idea of keeping a woman behind a niqab in a citizenship ceremony” do not support banning barbaric acts against women, and states he knows for a fact that the niqab is not a requirement of the Muslim faith. “Our own government is responsible for creating and exacerbating the social phenomenon of racism rather than combating it,” said Younus.

Chaachouh and Hatem both stated that the media plays a role in the spread of racism, too. “The media represents only negative things about Muslims. People will have a bad impression,” said Hatem. “Pointing a finger at the ‘Islamic State’ encompasses all Muslims and people make wide associations.” Hatem also mentioned she can’t think of an instance where the word “terrorist” was used for anyone who wasn’t a Muslim. When discussing the federal government’s new anti-terror bill, Bill C-51, Chaachouh lowered her voice, and said it “makes us seem like a threat.”

Haroun Bouazzi, the co-president of the Association des Musulmans et des Arabes pour la Laïcité au Québec, believes that a certain percentage of Canadians will always be racist. “Since 2007, there has been a political party reassuring people who are racists,” he said. “Islamophobia has gone up, and there is more vandalism on mosques and more attacks against Muslims than before.”

Bouazzi asserted that people’s reasoning and attitudes are based on anecdotes. He explained that Canada has a geopolitical position to represent, which is in support of Israel and of bombings in Iraq and Syria. He stated that the government is trying to show that Muslims are barbaric. Bouazzi believes this is done to avoid domestic opposition to bombing the Middle East, and further justifies Israel’s treatment of Palestine. “Things won’t change. We will have debates on culture and identity, and fighting against terrorism and radicalization.”

“The government focuses on the issue of identity instead of focusing on important issues like education or healthcare. They promote fear,” said Hatem. Chaachouh and Hatem both mentioned they find anglophones more open than francophones, as well as their respective schools. The stand on prayer is a lot more relaxed in English schools, according to Hatem. She thinks Muslims will leave Quebec for English provinces if they aren’t able to integrate.

“If you’re bullying people and telling them ‘are you a terrorist?’, you are going to start seeing huge levels of rising anger,” warned Younus. “We’re accused of being isolated but we are not – we are out there, we are working, our kids are in school, we exist, we are a part of Canadian society.”

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