Fight Islamophobia by repealing draconian national security laws

Canadians of all stripes must fight their country's fear-based fixation on "national security" if they want to undermine systemic Islamophobia.

Canada's anti-Muslim racism is a deeply ingrained reality based on post-9/11 fears, Steven Zhou writes

Only by repealing draconian laws passed by governments playing on citizens' fears will Canadians successfully fight off anti-Muslim sentiments espoused by right-wing populists, Steven Zhou says. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

Canadians of all stripes must fight their country's fear-based fixation on "national security" if they want to undermine systemic Islamophobia.

The global proliferation of right-wing populism (led primarily by U.S. President Donald Trump) isn't solely responsible for the climate that may have encouraged the recent rise in Islamophobic incidents in Canada. As a Muslim Canadian, I know this country's anti-Muslim racism isn't some foreign import, but a deeply ingrained reality that's based on an appropriation of post-9/11 fears. 

The politics that helps encourage anti-Muslim violence is the direct result of a culture of paranoia that has used the need for public safety to pass heavy-handed security legislation like Bill C-51. Repealing these laws is central to the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry because such measures have always been justified with mischaracterizations of Islam and the Muslim community. This precedence is what paved the way for the Trump-esque rhetoric and climate we see today. 

The proponents of such politics use fear and suspicion of Canada's Muslim community to buttress their arguments. This in turn damages Canada's social fabric. Many politicians in this country have been exploiting the obsession with "security" and the anti-Muslim sentiment it traffics in for at least 15 years. That's why the best way to fight systemic Islamophobia in Canada is for Muslims to band with their neighbours to repeal the unhelpful security measures that have encroached upon all of our civil liberties and human rights. 

Trump and the dog-whistle politics that dominates contemporary society distract us from our recent history: 

  1. We are still mired in the fear-based legacy of Stephen Harper. 
  2. Quebec has long been an epicentre of Canadian Islamophobia. 

Both of these realities derive from (and are a function of) the dark political possibilities of post-9/11 fear. It's this dynamic that must be stopped if we want to prevent tragedies like the shooting in Quebec City. Canadian Muslims have to be at the forefront of this movement.  

In other words, our current crisis is also an opportunity for a united voice to emerge against Canada's underlying politics of fear and, by extension, its exploitation by those who seek elected office.

The best way for Muslims to begin doing this is by calling for a significant rollback of post-9/11 security measures. This includes policies such as the use of security certificates (which allow the long-term detention of non-citizens without charge on national security grounds), the implementation of Bill C-51 (the Anti-terrorism Act) and the police forces' use of IMSI catchers ("stingrays" that capture mobile phone communications), among other things.

These and other examples of Canada's post-9/11 policies have long laid the social foundations for Trump's rhetoric to have an effect on our soil.

It's high time for Canadians to attack the root of this festering problem. Muslims must do this by allying with civil liberties and human rights activists — from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression to those in the black community who often bear the brunt of the militarization of security — to destroy the post-9/11 dynamic which, through the exploitation of fear, has helped expand the reach of the state. 

Only by doing these things can Canadians truly be on their way to preventing the global wave of right-wing populism from further taking root in Canadian society. 

Harper used the 2014 Parliament shooting, among other things, to push through Bill C-51, which simultaneously encroaches upon our privacy and expands the authority of intelligence agencies and law enforcement.

In a similar vein, and by taking advantage of his province's divisive debate on "reasonable accommodation," Jean-François Lisée of the Parti Québécois proposed not long ago that the burka, due to security concerns (surprise, surprise), must be banned in public. He said Muslims might use it to conceal weapons.

It's this underlying politics of exploitation — be it in Canada, the U.S. or Europe — that has helped facilitate everything from Kellie Leitch's current flirtation with right-wing populism to Trump's immigration/refugee ban and the awakening of the far right in general.

There's been a lot of guesswork when it comes to linking a particular ideology to the gunman who killed six people in the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec in January. And though Trump's bellicose rhetoric and discriminatory policies have certainly galvanized much of Canada's political fringe, even his success has been in large part due to his uncanny ability to manipulate post-9/11 fears of "Islamist radicals." 

Such fears have always been expressed in the language of "national security" and Canada is no different. It's the actual policies that have been enshrined and implemented with the help of this language that must be rolled back if Canada is to undermine its anti-Muslim climate.