Language matters: Growing Islamophobia paved the way to Quebec City mosque shooting

'The nightmare I have feared since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks has become a reality,' says Shahina Siddiqui.

'Language that dehumanized Muslims and demonized Islam' has become accepted as truth, says Shahina Siddiqui

A Monday night vigil in Winnipeg to remember victims of Sunday's shooting at a Quebec City mosque. While Canadians are 'overwhelmingly fair and just people,' says Shahina Siddiqui, we must 'move beyond statements and commit to the values of multiculturalism.' (Lyza Sale/CBC)

The nightmare I have feared since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks has become a reality — someone entered a mosque and killed Muslim worshippers in my beloved Canada because he bought the Islamophobic messages, and I am numb with pain and anguish.

While I have faced many challenges as a woman of colour and a Muslim, I was not prepared for this carnage. I am at a loss about how to explain this to my family and friends abroad, who have always seen Canada as a safe haven but are now calling to ask, 'How could this happen?' and to express concern for my safety.  

I could see the writing on the wall long before 9/11. Language that dehumanized Muslims and demonized Islam was creeping into our discourse and political and media lexicon and being accepted uncritically as truth by society at large and the media in particular.

A young girl places a candle during a Monday vigil in Quebec City, where a shooting at a mosque left six people dead and eight others injured Sunday. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
Terror was given a faith identity: Islamic terrorism. This terminology became the mantra of "experts" in media and of right-wing politicians. Islam was touted as the enemy of the West and as being at war with the West.

The terrorists were named jihadis in direct violation of what "jihad" actually means — struggling and striving to do good.

Muslim women's religious garb became the main target of Islam bashers and proof of Islam's incompatibility with Western values; clothing like mine became the favourite topic of Islamophobic discourse.

The Islamophobes also targeted Muslim leadership in North America, through character assassination and slander. Scores of websites and so-called Islamic experts and Muslim Islamophobes were unleashed through various media with singular purpose: to demonize Islam.

I became a target of such a campaign and took it as a badge of honour. If Islamophobes and extremists both hate me, then I must be doing something right. Humour can help ease tensions and I and other Muslim activists rely heavily on it to get us through the heavy days.

Unfortunately, the seeds of what culminated in the killing of six innocent Muslims in Quebec were sown and nurtured by deliberate campaigns to foster Islamophobia. 

Over the last few decades, the campaign launched against Muslims not only by Islamophobes but also their Muslim surrogates has blossomed into the Trump era.

Posters like this appeared around Montreal's McGill University last year. 'Over the last few decades, the campaign launched against Muslims not only by Islamophobes but also their Muslim surrogates has blossomed into the Trump era,' says Shahina Siddiqui. (Andrew Potter/Twitter)
While the West supported corrupt leaders and dictators in Muslim majority countries, a campaign to sully Islam and its adherents was strategically implemented in Europe and North America. It was impossible to have a rational conversation about the reasons for ordinary Muslims' anger and pain without being accused of justifying terrorism.

Today I pray the tragedy in Quebec has awakened us to the injustices of dehumanizing and demonizing Islam and Muslims. I strongly believe that Canadians are overwhelmingly fair and just people and that they will continue to reach out to Muslims with compassion and empathy, as they have done en masse this day.

We must, however, move beyond statements and commit to the values of multiculturalism.

This young man who committed this terrorist act was also a victim of Islamophobia; hate consumed him because he believed the rhetoric.

Our country cannot be defined by this terrorist act nor by xenophobes, just as Islam and Muslims cannot be defined by the likes of ISIS and al-Qaeda. 

Building bridges of mutual respect and understanding is the Canadian way; let us honour the victims and their families by pledging to travel these bridges toward each other.

Thank you, my fellow Canadians, for your compassion, love and understanding. You have eased some of our pain and provided solace.

While we have many challenges yet to face, I hope to leave behind a Canada that embraces my grandchildren as its own.

A message posted on a lamppost outside Winnipeg Central Mosque after the mass shooting in Quebec. Fellow Canadians 'have eased some of our pain and provided solace,' says Shahina Siddiqui. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Shahina Siddiqui is the co-founder and current executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg, a non-profit organization which carries a mission to provide family, health, and social welfare services inclusive of the many cultural and ethnic groups that comprise the Muslim community in North America.