Islamophobia in Quebec wasn’t created overnight – The sad reality

Canada faces hard questions about the broader climate after a far-right white supremacist killed Muslim worshippers at the Quebec City mosque last week. To what extent has Canada’s own public debate helped to stigmatise Canadian Muslims?

QUEBEC, Canada — The murder of six Muslims at an Islamic Center in Quebec City has generated much public outcry. Khaled Belkacemi, Azzedine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, and Ibrahima Barry were praying in their spiritual sanctuary when 27-year-old suspect Alexandre Bissonette shot and killed them. A number of people have associated the tragic act with the rise of US President Donald Trump’s hate theatre. They are not wrong. But that is not the entire story.

What happened on Sunday might be the actions of a so-called lone wolf. But to me, this attack is inherently linked to the broader public debate that has taken place over the last decade in Quebec.

Bissonette and I are the same age. We are part of the same generation. I was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec to Palestinian parents. They settled in a francophone (French-speaking) suburb of the city, Ville Lasalle. I am a child of Bill 101, meaning I had to go to school in French under the pretext of protecting the language and the culture of the “original” people of the land. No, of course am not referring to the indigenous people of Turtle Island. I am referring to the descendants of the French colonialists. That culture.

Many Muslims in Quebec, both of Arab and non-Arab descent, are children of Bill 101. Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Guinea, the countries the victims were originally from, are also part of the “La Francophonie”. My generation – the children of immigrants – embraced French. We appropriated the narrative of the Quebecoisculture being colonised by the hegemonic English culture. We built a sense of solidarity around the struggle to keep the French language alive and well. But that was not good enough.

In 2007, a commission was set up to consult Quebecers to find out their views on what were “reasonable cultural and religious accommodations”. It was called the Bouchard-Taylor Commission. I remember thinking that it was such a ridiculous exercise – to go around the province and ask people: what and who do they think “deserved” a space in the public sphere. I remember watching the forums being broadcast nationwide in the evenings. The things people seemed so comfortable saying were outrageous and still register in my memory: “How many immigrants are there really in Quebec? Must be more than 20? Get the Hell out! Take your rags and garbage with you!!” Every night, it was a different city. Every night, new hateful comments were given space to exist on television.

For the first time in my life, I had to prove that I was worthy of being called a Quebecoise. I was a first-year student at Dawson College at the time, and so naive, I took up the insidious challenge. I volunteered to be a fixer for a Radio-Canada show for young children and early teenagers. I would go around the city looking for teenagers from immigrant parents to talk about how the reasonable accommodation debate affected them. In reality, we were all mostly trying to prove how Quebecois we really were, despite our hijabs, our olive skin tone, and strong belief in God.

The following year, the commission published a “comprehensive” report at the end of the saga called Building the Future. The future that would follow was bleak. The entire exercise was only productive in disseminating social anxiety.

On more than one occasion people stopped me in the street, telling me I don’t need to be wearing “that thing” on my head. Once a bus driver told me that he would never force his daughter to wear a turban (my hijab), while others stared as I tried to convince the bus driver that this was my choice.

The very fact that I felt the need to justify myself to a stranger is testament to the kind of pressures people who looked like me faced. While working weekends at Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee and donut chain, I had people refuse to be served by me. I had people call me a terrorist. I had people dismissing the fact that I spoke perfect French and used their hands to gesture how many creams and sugars they wanted in their coffees because they assumed I couldn’t understand them. I was infantilised and ostracised. I left Quebec for Ontario four months after the Commission published it is report.

The public conversations continued on television and radio, and in newspapers. I would look every now and then at the news. The comfort and casualness that politicians, television personalities and writers demonstrated in making Muslims feel horrible about themselves was so strong that even in the nowhere town in Quebec of Herouville, locals called on their municipality to ban stoning. Stoning was something that has never even happened in Quebec, let alone Canada. Nonsense was given a serious place in public discourse. It was ridiculous, and it was growing.

In 2013, I moved to Turkey. That year, Pauline Marois of the anti-immigration and pro-independence Parti Québécois opened her mouth, and all hell broke loose. She and her entourage came up with a sequel to the reasonable accommodation saga, only with a new name: “ostensible symbols”. While being articulated in Quebec, the rhetoric was plagiarised from France. For those of you who have lived in Quebec, you might know about the fetish certain Quebecers entertain over their desire to be like France. Some of the Quebec intellectual elite, in a desire to mimic the French model of dogmatic secularism (laïcité), decided they wanted the same for Quebec. People like me were paying the price.

They focused on women, like me, who wear the hijab. Committed to policing our bodies and our choice of dress, Pauline and friends meticulously constructed the debate around symbols under the guise of protecting her much vaunted “Charter of Values”. Imposing her neo-liberal white feminist ideology, Pauline helped make Muslim women the target of violence. Bissonnette and I both experienced – in a fundamentally different rhythm and beat – the progression of the discourse of othering around Muslims in Quebec. He was taught to fear people like me, and I was taught to feel guilt about myself.

Islamophobia in Quebec is not new. It exists in Canada more broadly, but it is especially hurtful in Quebec. It hurts because Quebec perceived itself as more progressive and supposedly in tune with struggles of social justice and equality. But the violent crescendo emerging from inconsiderate comments made by politicians and mainstream intellectuals allowed people who consider themselves “original” Quebecois to feel comfortable making people like me feel unwelcome.

Despite the current rhetoric, this discomfort has not uniquely been targeted toward Muslims. I watched a documentary some weeks ago called Sisters in the Struggle(which is celebrating its 25th anniversary). In the film, Haitian social worker and activist Amanthe Estiverne-Bathalien makes an important observation about Quebec society. Though both Haitian and Quebec history have a lot in common, she says: “ [I] believe the Quebecois society has an unease toward the Haitian community because they [Haitians] are people of the Third World, because we are black … so we are judged as non-integratable immigrants. We cannot be part of this society, and if they are thinking in terms of colours, they are right, because we will never be able to be white.”

It is this very unease that made even the most liberal individuals comfortable to engage with the racist nature of the charter of “values” debate, and the reasonable accommodation parade. Muslims are not going to look like Marc-Andre or Phillippe, Diane or Geneviève. That does not make them second-class citizens, it does not make them suspect, and it certainly doesn’t warrant the imposition of a mass media-led public scrutiny of their personhood.
Many people are mourning because they do not want to believe that people like them are capable of regrettable actions. They ignore or fail to see the bigotry that has accumulated over a decade.

Vigils are nice. Coming together to cry can be comforting. The president of the Islamic community centre himself was moved by the support from the municipality. In French, he thanked people for showing compassion.

But compassion and shared grief can also be extremely insulting if it is not coupled with an acknowledgement of what has taken place in Quebec since 2007. For a decade, Muslims have been asked to prove something that cannot and should never be asked of a community and a person: that they are worthy of respect and dignity.

The killing of those six innocent people, as they prayed to God, as they bowed down and sought solace is a strong reminder of the power of racism in political discourse. By engaging in a decade-long debate that was fundamentally exclusionary and at its core, racist and Islamophobic, a fertile space has been created wherein this type of hatred could grow. The consequences have been deadly. Since the shooting on Sunday, 14 hate crimes against Muslims have been reported in Montreal alone.

Quebec doesn’t have a Trump problem. Quebec has an Islamophobia problem. In the midst of your tears, recognise it.

Author – Sabrien Amrov (A PhD student in Human Geography at the University of Toronto in Canada)

Source – Trt world


#VisitMyMosque – UK Muslims open doors to fight bigotry

More than 150 mosques invite Britons of all beliefs and none to visit and ask questions about the Islamic faith.

Birmingham, England – Hundreds of mosques around the UK threw open their doors to Britons as part of an initiative to counter misconceptions about the Muslim community.

More than 150 mosques took part in the “Visit My Mosque” project on Sunday afternoon, drawing crowds of curious visitors.

The event, organised by the Muslim Council of Great Britain (MCB), promised to answer attendees’ questions. Visitors of all faiths and none were welcomed and no subject was considered off limits.

At the Paigham-e-Islam mosque in Birmingham, Britain’s second-biggest city, conversations focused on Islamic law, Muslims’ views of Jesus and what mosques were doing to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

Tea and South Asian pastries were on offer for those who attended, as well as mosque tours and explanations of Islamic prayer rituals.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, took part in the event by visiting his local mosque in Finsbury Park, north London.

“Drinking tea together is far more effective than pouring concrete to build walls,” he tweeted.

Adrees Sharif, a mosque member and MCB official, said the initiative aimed to strengthen the bond between Muslims and the communities they belong to.

“We want to create dialogue instead of debate. When you’re debating you’re aiming to win an argument, but when you engage in dialogue you’re sharing your beliefs,” he said.

The number of mosques taking part in this year’s event almost doubled from 82 in 2016.

Sharif attributed the increase to an eagerness among Muslims to explain their beliefs amid rising far-right sentiment.
“Mosques understand the importance of engagement and are more willing to take part, not just because of [US President] Donald Trump, but the backlash after Brexit as well,” Sharif explained, referencing Britain’s vote in June to leave the European Union.

Trump, in part, followed through on his campaign pledge to ban all Muslims from entering the US by halting immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.

A federal judge has since halted Trump’s order.

In the UK, attacks on Muslims have increased, alongside other xenophobic attacks, in the aftermath of Brexit vote.

Geoff Gallagher, who attended the event in Birmingham, said he had an “excellent” experience and recommended more frequent community-building exercises to help dispel negative stereotypes about Muslims.

“It should be advertised across the country to ensure that everybody understands that Muslims are not a violent religious group, and are part of [the wider community],” he said.

Muslims make up five percent of the British population or just under three million people, with significant numbers concentrated in urban centres, such as London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bradford.

Around half of British Muslims are born in the UK.

Source – Al Jazeera

Right’s group warns; plan to move Rohingya to remote island prompts fears of human catastrophe.

Rights groups have warned that a Bangladesh government proposal to move Rohingya refugees to a flood-prone island could have fatal consequences

The Bangladeshi government’s revised proposals to relocate tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote island that appeared only eight years ago, and floods at high tide, threaten to trigger a humanitarian catastrophe, rights groups have warned.

Members of the Rohingya Muslim community, who fled from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape persecution, said they were so fearful of the planned relocation they would consider returning to their homeland.
Government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have described the low-lying island of Thengar Char, in south-eastern Bangladesh, as uninhabitable.

The proposed relocation of the Rohingya to the island – first mooted by the government in 2015, when the UN said the scheme would be logistically challenging – was resurrected last weekend, when plans appeared in a circular on a government website. The statement made no mention of what might be done to prepare the island for habitation or any potential timing.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh foreign minister Shahriar Alam said Rohingya refugees were being relocated to Thengar Char to help them access “improved humanitarian services”.

Having fled Myanmar in the face of persecution by its military and majority Buddhists, an estimated 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have lived in Bangladesh for decades. An additional 65,000 Rohingya have arrived since October, according to the UN, fleeing violent retaliation after the killings of nine Myanmar border police.

About 33,000 Rohingya live in two official camps in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar, a tourist resort with a beach that stretches for 120 miles, making it the world’s longest.

Abdul Korim, who fled to Bangladesh in 2007, said he would go back to Myanmarif the proposed relocation went through. He said he would be at the mercy of cyclones and floods and have no means to support his family.

“For the Rohingya, Myanmar is extremely unsafe,” said Korim, a construction worker who lives in Cox’s Bazar. “Anyone can be murdered or raped or arrested just because he or she is Rohingya. Still, with my four children and wife I will decide to go back to Myanmar if the Bangladesh government wants to forcibly relocate us to the island.

“I work as a day wage construction worker in Cox’s bazar and somehow I manage to support my family of seven members here. [On] Thengar Char, where even arable land does not exist, life will be very hard for us. Also, I know that the island is vulnerable to storms and tidal waves. In no situation will we go to that unsafe place.”

With no support from the local government or the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN refugee agency, most Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh do menial jobs, have no access to basic amenities, and are forced to live hand-to-mouth.

Zafor Alom, 45, who has lived in Nayapara refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar for nine years, said: “With my family I will take a boat from Bangladesh, aiming to go to Malaysia and Indonesia, where we will surely not be rejected. We know the [illegal] sea route is fraught with life threatening risks. I am ready to take such risks, yet we will not go to Thengar Char.”

Kurban Ali, 41, a rickshaw puller, who fled in 2012, said: “No Rohingya is willing to move to that island. But, as refugees, we do not have a choice … We have been caught between the devil and the deep sea.”

A committee including government officials from Cox’s Bazar has been established to advance the relocation plans before repatriating the refugees. The committee will help identify the refugees and organise their transfer to Thengar Char.

The government order, issued on 26 January, said Rohingya Muslims would be relocated to the island to prevent them from “intermingling” with Bangladeshi citizens. It said they should be arrested or forcibly sent to Thengar Char iffound outside the assigned area.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, government officials from Noakhali district, where the 30,000-hectare island is located, said the area around the estuary of river Meghna becomes completely flooded during rainy season. They said the island is vulnerable to cyclones and high tides and described it as uninhabitable.

“During the high tide the whole island goes under several feet of water. The land is extremely unstable. It’s impossible for the Rohingyas to set up any type of shack or house and live here,” said one land department officer.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said the plan threatened a human rights catastrophe and a humanitarian disaster.

“Bangladesh should be looking for ways to better protect the Rohingya rather than coming up with punitive plans that will put their lives at risk,” said Robertson. “Imagine if they are moved en masse to that low-lying island, with its mud flats and sodden plains, and a typhoon hits? One really has to wonder, where is the sense of compassion in Dhaka for the Rohingya, who remain one of the most oppressed peoples in Asia?

“UN agencies and government donors assisting Bangladesh with the latest wave of Rohingya refugees should tell PM Sheikh Hasina that this proposal to move them to Thengar Char island is absolutely unacceptable and they will not support it.”

The Bangladesh government blames Rohingya refugees for deteriorating law and order in the country’s south-east, claims rejected by Professor Chowdhury Rafiqul Abrar, who directs the Dhaka-based Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit.

“The authorities have not provided any compelling evidence,” said Abrar. “Like any other group, some wayward elements may exist within the Rohingya community who are involved in crime. But it is unfair to label the entire community as criminal.”

Alam said the Rohingya would be sent back to Myanmar as soon as possible: “The Rohingya refugees live in extremely congested colonies now. Our army has been tasked to make Thengar Char livable. Once they have finished their work and set up the camps in the island, the refugees will be relocated there.”

Source – The Guardian

Quebec shooting more than just “Trumpism”


By now many of our readers will have heard of the tragic events in Quebec City a couple nights ago. Now that the investigations are progressing, and the facts are becoming sorted out from a confusion of early reports, it is time to say something. Fortunately for those of us who live in Canada, mass shootings are rare. In many ways that does make it more horrifying. We generally have the attitude that it is a uniquely American phenomena, and when that false security gets torn away couple years or so it does give us a shock.

As to the shooting itself, amid the confusion of early reports were some that it was Muslim on Muslim violence involving as many as 3 shooters. Eventually it was found that it was the action of only one man, a French-Canadian Christian. Along with the other details it was noted that he is a “supporter” of Donald Trump. While many have given this Trump connection the spotlight, that is actually an oversimplification of motives which are likely to be much more deeply rooted.

In Canada, there has been a cottage industry of anti-immigrant bigotry since the very beginning. Policies of exclusion and special taxation of Chinese continued until the 1960’s. There has also in recent years been a marked rise in anti-Muslim sentiment. While most easily associate Ezra Levant and his Rebel Media, these sentiments came to the fore during the term of the Harper era Conservative party. With proposed niqab bans, “Canadian values” tests for citizenship, even a proposed “barbaric cultural practices” police hotline; all made for a very nasty tone during the 2015 election. Canadians rejected those proposals by a very wide margin, but those who supported them remain.

Those proposals got a lot of attention in the Eastern Townships and Quebec City area in particular. In that region there is a sense of what is called “puire laine” or pure line meaning those descended from the original French settlers of Quebec. To an extent, outsiders have always been looked at with a great deal of suspicion. As a child, my father had been transferred cross country. Being English speaking while driving through the Eastern Townships in September of 1970 was a very unpleasant experience. A month later due to terrorism by the FLQ, martial law was declared. The same sentiments about outsiders echo to this day, albeit focused on non-whites, particularly Muslims.

Yes, the shooter liked Trump and LePen on his Facebook page. And possibly the recent events concerning immigration and refugees may have indeed been the final straw. But the underlying sentiments are much deeper than that.

My Québec hurts…

Cyranny's Cove

Tonight, my dear, peaceful Québec hurts…

A few hours ago, some man entered a Mosque in Québec City and opened fire on the 100 or about people that were there for a prayer session.

We’re almost used to terrorist attacks now, let’s face it. But sadly, in most situations, they are attacks of minorities against the country that welcomed them.

Not the case here, and it sickens me.

I know it is a minority speaking up for the minority. But it sickens me to see an attack against Muslims in my Province.

Details are few… But the picture is dark. And I am sorry tonight. Sorry that the image of Québec will be stained by the acts of a horrible person.

For years now… For decades… Québec has been a welcoming haven for people of different nationalities, races, sexual orientations…

I am disappointed, to say the least. We are never…

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Populism: America’s Largest Mass Democratic Movement

The Most Revolutionary Act


The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America

by Lawrence Goodwyn

Oxford University Press (1978)

Book Review

The Populist Moment describes the rise and fall of the 19th century populist movement, the largest mass democratic movement in US history. At its zenith during the 1896 election, the populist People’s Party had two million members.

Author Lawrence Goodwyn credits the rise of the agrarian populist movement to two major factors: 1) the unwillingness of the Eastern banking establishment to issue adequate credit to small family farmers and 2) the sudden contraction of the money supply caused by pressure on the post-Civil War government to repay bonds it floated for $450 million of treasury notes (aka Greenbacks) Lincoln used to pay for the civil year.

Goodwyn also blames the systematic failure of commercial banks to issue adequate credit for the ultimate consolidation and centralization of farming in the…

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