Audio recordings from Alberta hotline expose what Islamophobia sounds like

The group that runs an Islamophobia hotline in Alberta has released recordings of hateful messages left in recent months. The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council said it hopes to dispel myths some may believe about the issue.

Muslim council says it released audio of messages to put to rest popular myths

A mosque in Cold Lake was defaced with racist graffiti in October 2014, before the hotline was set up. (Tumblr)

The group that runs an Islamophobia hotline in Alberta has released recordings of hateful telephone messages left in recent months.

The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC) said it hopes to dispel myths some people may believe about the issue.

The hotline was launched in April 2016 as a way for Muslims to ask questions and raise concerns.

Aurangzeb Qureshi, AMPAC's vice-president of communications, said more than 400 legitimate calls have been received over the past year.

But a small minority of calls, about 15, have been hateful, anti-Islamic messages, he said.

"I'm not going to change my ways just 'cause you guys want us to," one caller said. "And this traitor government. You better think again. You started something that ... you have no idea what's coming."

"At any rate," said another caller, "I'm locked and loaded."

AMPAC released some of the recordings on Tuesday.

"It's very unnerving, because of what happened in Quebec City," said Qureshi, referring to the Jan. 29 shootings at a mosque that killed six people.

"A lot of people think that Islamophobia is a myth, you know, that there are Muslims that are just crying wolf," he said. "We wanted to make these public to ... counter that belief and really tell people and demonstrate that this is real, and this is what Islamophobia sounds like."

'You can sense the hate in their voice'

Qureshi said the messages on the phone are even more unnerving than seeing anti-Islamic graffiti and vandalism.

"You're seeing these crimes committed after the fact," he said. "In a way, you're kind of removed from it. With these phone calls, though, it's different. You can sense the hate in their voice. It's more real."

Qureshi said the hotline has been a useful tool for Muslims since it was launched.

"People calling in to report Islamophobic incidents, where they've been targets of discrimination, asking questions about how they could proceed, whether it's something that requires police intervention or whether it's something they would need legal advice," he said.

​He said AMPAC has noticed an increase in hateful calls since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in November.

"Those kinds of things have a tendency to give licence to people who already ... might have certain views toward Muslims and Islam," he said. "Usually, they keep it to themselves. But when you have someone like Donald Trump south of the border, there's a tendency to give licence to that kind of rhetoric."

Callers represent a minority

Despite the hateful phone messages, the vast majority of Canadians are accepting and live peacefully with their Muslim neighbours, Qureshi said.
Aurangzeb Qureshi says the council released the audio of the hate messages to show people that Islamophobia is real. (Supplied)

"We belong to a very rich, diverse mosaic, where we all live in peace," he said. "There are a few bad apples that exist, but we need to make sure they don't take over the narrative."

Qureshi said he hopes a Muslim council event this Saturday with Arsalan Iftikhar — editor of The Islamic Monthly and author of Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms  — will help shine light on the reasons behind the hate messages.

"At the event, we hope to dispel myths about Islam," he said. "So attendees come away with a better understanding of the faith, but also talk about Islamophobia from a socio-political and cultural perspective."



Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.