Cross Country Checkup

Anti-Muslim rhetoric has become 'mainstream' in Canadian culture & politics, says expert

In the wake of a violent attack that killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., last Sunday night, conversations about the roots of Islamophobia have increased among Canadians.

Conditions that have spurred Islamophobia in Canada have existed for years, says Jasmin Zine

Conversations about the roots of Islamophobia have increased among Canadians following a hit-and-run attack that killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Shiraaz Hanif, a constable for the Metro Vancouver Transit Police, says that there's a significant difference between how he's treated in and out of uniform.

"I have a beard, [I'm an] identifiable Muslim, and so when I'm not in uniform, when I'm not working, yeah, I get treated differently," he told Cross Country Checkup.

Though he hasn't been the victim of anti-Muslim violence, he says microaggressions — from being treated differently in stores to people showing fear when he boards an elevator — are a common occurrence.

He believes the reason he's treated differently while in uniform is, in part, out of respect, but also as it "fills in the blanks" about his background — that he's a Canadian authority. 

In the wake of a violent attack that killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., last Sunday night, conversations about the roots of Islamophobia have increased among Canadians.

Police have said the hit-and-run was premeditated and motivated by hate because the family are Muslim. Canada's Public Safety Minister Bill Blair confirmed that the case is being investigated as an act of terror on Thursday.

Thousands attended a vigil in London, Ont., for members of the Afzaal family who were killed in a violent attack that police say was premeditated and motivated by hate. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The roots of Islamophobia can be linked to the "consistent pairing" of Muslims with terrorism and violence, according to social psychologist Stephen Wright.

These misconceptions, the Simon Fraser University professor says, have permeated Canadians' shared beliefs — and that can have dire consequences.

"When we set up a group of people to have an underlying view of them as threatening, this then, of course, provides much more justification for violence against them," he told Cross Country Checkup. 

Wright attributes it to something called implicit bias, the subconscious acceptance of a viewpoint or perspective that people aren't aware of.

WATCH | London, Ont., march honours the lives of four killed in a hate-motivated attack

A multi-faith march and Friday prayers honour the Afzaal family

2 years ago
Duration 2:41
A 'multi-faith march to end hatred' wound through London, Ont., today, beginning at the site where four members of a Muslim family were targeted and killed in an attack on Sunday.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric is 'mainstream': expert

Jasmin Zine, a sociologist who has studied Islamophobia in Canada for more than a decade, says that the causes that may have led to this tragedy are nothing new.

"What is significant about Islamophobia and distinctive about it as a form of oppression is the fact that there is this industry behind it," the Wilfred Laurier University professor said, pointing to prominent media figures and white nationalist groups, among others, who perpetuate anti-Muslim rhetoric.

"However, it isn't just through those mechanisms that Islamophobia operates. It's not just fraud and conspiracy theories. It is very much part of the mainstream."

The conditions that have spurred anti-Muslim hate and rhetoric in Canada have existed for years, according to Zine, who cited key political decisions and security laws, like Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act, that came into effect after the attacks of 9/11.

Quebec's Bill 21, which bans people from wearing religious symbols — like the hijab and niqab — at work, negatively targets Muslim women, Zine says.

"What it's doing is regulating and disciplining Muslim women's bodies and exiling them from the public sphere," she said. 

"That sends a message that these identities and these religious expressions of Muslimness do not belong in Canada…. That they are a threat to the Canadian way of life, to old stock Canadians."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the killing of four people in London last Sunday a "terrorist act" Tuesday in the House of Commons. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Zine says these ideas do not only exist among fringe groups, but are represented in government policy and mainstream political rhetoric.

As politicians now speak out against Islamophobia following last Sunday's attack, Hanif says it's hypocritical.

"How can you go tell a kid that Islamophobia is wrong when you have governments that are participating in such events?" he said.

Changing the narrative

Hanif believes that the root of all hate, including homophobia, racism and anti-Indigenous hate, is borne from ignorance. 

"They pick up the wrong information, misinformation, or they don't know and they start hating," he said.

WATCH | Why some Muslims are facing a newfound fear of walking outdoors

Taking a walk: a simple step for some, but a deep fear for many Muslims

2 years ago
Duration 3:16
Many Muslims in Metro Vancouver are sharing a new-found fear of walking outside their homes and in the streets after a Muslim family of four was struck and killed in London, Ont., in what police are describing as a targeted attack on their faith.

Overcoming these negative beliefs requires people to share experiences, knowledge and opportunities between groups, Wright says.

"We look at the outpouring of grief that happened in London, and I think we have to remember that ... is part of the true Canadian experience — that there were people from all walks of life who grieved and who were sad and who were harmed by that act," he said.

Wright also suggests focusing attention on positive narratives about marginalized groups, and understanding that differences exist and should be embraced.

"I think the essence of inclusion is the recognition that groups are different and we need them all," said Wright.

"Not that we're all just human beings [or] that we all belong to different groups, but that we need them all and that group memberships are important, valuable things that we celebrate rather than fear."

Written by Jason Vermes with files from Steve Howard and Mikee Mutuc.


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