Opinion

Let's keep some perspective here: one false story does not mean Islamophobia doesn't exist

The false story of the 11-year-old whose hijab was cut off was a destructive incident for the Muslim community, but hopefully one that won't delegitimize the experiences of many other Muslim Canadians.

The fears and anxieties are still real, even if this specific story was not

The false story of the 11-year-old whose hijab was cut off was a destructive incident for the Muslim community, but hopefully one that won't delegitimize the experiences of many other Muslim Canadians. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)

The small bit of good news in the update from Toronto police Monday about an alleged attack on an 11-year-old girl, which we now know did not happen, is that there is one fewer victim of Islamophobia in Canada.

The report was false: an elementary school student was not confronted by a man who cut off her hijab while she walked with her brother to school. We don't know why or how the story came to be. The extent of what we know is this: it didn't happen.

That is where the good news ends.

Danger of false reports

False reports such as this only fan the flames of hate. They are fodder for those who believe the scourge of Islamophobia in Canada is overblown, and they feed bizarre conspiracy theories about Muslim communities trying to control political narratives.

Some people have gone so far as to call for criminal charges to be laid for the girl and her family, while the response from others has been more subdued. But an unfortunate consequence of this whole episode is that Muslims who are subjected to harassment and abuse will be less likely to be believed next time.

So it's worth reviewing the facts, and remembering the cases of harassment that have been proven.

Violence against Muslims and visible and religious minorities has generally been on the rise. In fact, statistics show that from 2012 to 2015, hate crimes against Muslims have jumped by 253 per cent, though there were fewer hate crimes against Muslims last year than the year before. However, it's important to note that those statistics only reflect police-reported hate crimes. There are surely incidents of harassment and abuse that go unreported.  

What's more, there is a general and widespread unease when it comes to attitudes toward Muslims in Canada. An Angus Reid poll last year found that nearly half of respondents found the presence of Islam damaging to Canadian society.

The most extreme example of Islamophobia in Canada in recent memory happened last January, when six Muslim men were the victims of a horrendous terrorist attack. Killed at a mosque in in Quebec City's Sainte-Foy neighbourhood, the victims were just like you and I: fathers, sons, husbands and brothers, working and contributing to their families and communities.

The most extreme example of Islamophobia in Canada in recent memory happened at a mosque in Quebec last January. (Alice Chiche/AFP/Getty Images)

It was one of the worst massacres in Canadian history, and the victims were targeted specifically because of who they were.

Then, just a few weeks ago, a family in Hamilton, Ont. was forced to grapple with the death of their 19-year-old son, who was trying to be a Good Samaritan. Yosif Al-Hasnawi was coming out of a mosque when he saw two young men harassing an older man on the street. He tried to intervene, but he was fatally shot during the encounter.

Many believe that Al-Hasnawi's life could have been saved, but according to witnesses on the scene, paramedics did not believe his injuries were real. They reportedly did not take him seriously, telling him that he was acting, and they seemed to take an extraordinarily long amount of time to transport him to hospital, where he later died.

A formal complaint

We of course do not know that Al-Hasnawi's injuries would have been taken more seriously had he not been Muslim, but that is what his mother suspects, and it is something that will surely be explored now that a formal complaint has been filed against Hamilton paramedics.

There are many other stories of the hate Muslims experience on a daily basis: one of a Muslim woman allegedly harassed in a London, Ont. grocery store, another called a "terrorist" as she tried to pick her children up from school in Toronto, and yet another of a young Muslim woman who was allegedly assaulted on the Canadian Line in Vancouver.

It's important to keep some perspective here: like any other community, Canadian Muslims are not a monolithic group and cannot be painted with a broad clumsy brush. The false story of the 11-year-old whose hijab was cut off was a destructive incident for the Muslim community, but hopefully one that won't delegitimize the experiences of many other Muslim Canadians. The fears and anxieties are still real, even if this specific story was not.

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

About the Author

Mohamed Hammoud

Mohamed Hammoud specializes in learning and leadership development. He has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith and training on leadership, diversity and inclusion.