Answering why Aaron Driver turned to ISIS is critical, counsellor says

The executive director of Winnipeg's Islamic Social Services Association, Shahina Siddiqui, says she is worried about Islamophobia becoming systemic in Manitoba.

'I am extremely concerned. More concerned than I was right after 9/11'

Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, says Muslims need to be able to be proud of their nationality as well as their religion. Repressing their views is no way to end the problem. (CBC)

The executive director of Winnipeg's Islamic Social Services Association, Shahina Siddiqui, says she is worried about Islamophobia becoming systemic in Manitoba. 

Following the cloudy circumstances that landed ISIS supporter Aaron Driver in police custody, she said Wednesday she is worried about people's right to free speech being eroded. 

"It's self-imposed censorship. People are watching what they are saying. Even if they are feeling very strongly about something, they're feeling as if they cannot express it. And to me as a counsellor, if people do not have a safe environment, to express their feelings, their anguish — even if they're views you and I do not agree with — we will push these underground. And they will find other venues to express it," Siddiqui said. 

Answering the why

"Nobody's asking the 'whys' about this, we are all addressing the 'what,'" Siddiqui said.

Working as a counsellor, Siddiqui has heard from Winnipeg students that they do not feel free to express their views and challenge ideas in their classes. 

Responses to Muslim students expressing their opinions has ranged from a failure to pass classes to public ridicule. Siddiqui said she's heard of many cases at both of Winnipeg's universities.

"Their response to me was, 'we keep our heads down and we pass the course,'" she said. 

Siddiqui has counselled students as young as 12-years-old on how to deal with the discrimination. 

Extremely concerned, worse than after 9/11

"I am extremely concerned. More concerned than I was right after 9/11. Because when Islamophobia becomes systemic, especially when you start to seeing manifestations in educational institutions as early as middle school and upwards, there seems to be no sense in the community at large as to what this is doing to these young people," Siddiqui said. 

This discrimination is encouraged when it is condoned by Canada's highest officials, Siddiqui cited the niqab controversy that waged in Canada's House of Commons earlier this year.

Siddiqui pointed to the woman at the heart of the controversy and said, "This woman also has children. How would you and I feel if our mothers were belittled?"

The influence of acts like this have been devastating, Siddiqui said.

"They are Canadians and they are Muslims and they should be proud of both."