Commentary  End a decade of Islamaphobia

This past week commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. The tragic effects of this atrocious event still reside in the hearts and public consciousness of many in North America and around the world. Among the many devastating outcomes of the attack is the growing trend of Islamaphobia that has pervaded North American society. Although significantly heightened after the tragedy of 9/11, Islamaphobia is by no means a new development. However, it is pertinent, in light of the ten-year anniversary, that this discrimination be addressed.
Islamaphobia, although commonly associated with the post 9/11 American discourse, is present in Canadian society as well. For example, earlier this month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an interview with the CBC, remarked that in wake of 9/11, “the major threat [to Canada] is still Islamicism.” “Islamicism” is not actually a word. Islamism, however, is a diverse set of beliefs that, broadly speaking, advocate an increased role of Islam in political life. Although Harper later corrected his statements and explained that his intention was to say “Islamic terrorism,” the original sentiment still stands and is Islamaphobic. His remarks were sensationalist and inflammatory. In actuality, terrorism is a multi-faceted and violent practice enacted by many different kinds of people for many different political ends. Terrorism, whether one agrees that it is the biggest threat to Canadian society or not, is not inextricably tied to Islamism.
However, North American Islamaphobia is not confined to political discourse or comments like Harper’s. In reality, it’s harmfully played out in the daily lives of citizens. The 2002 case of Maher Arar’s extraordinary rendition precisely shows the sheer extent of Islamaphobia after 9/11. Attempting to return home to Ottawa after a vacation in Tunisia, Arar was detained at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City for two weeks on false accounts of affiliation with Al Qaeda. After his detainment, the United States wrongfully deported him to Syria where he was jailed and tortured for an entire year. Canada simply turned the other cheek to the U.S.’s actions. Another shocking example of Islamophobia has been the case of Adil Charkaoui, a Moroccan born Montreal man suspected of Al Queda ties by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He was arrested and detained. Charkoui remained in jail for 21 months and was released on house arrest were he was expected to wear a GPS tracking ankle bracelet until he was freed in 2009. The Canadian government justified Charkaoui’s treatment under the Security Certificate System.
Unfortunately, Charkaoui’s devastating situation is only one of many examples where Muslim Canadians have been alleged to have ties with terrorist groups and have been imprisoned under security certificates. In article 81 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, it states, “The Minister and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration may issue a warrant for the arrest and detention of a person who is named in a [security] certificate if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person is a danger to national security or to the safety of any person.” The treatment of people such as Charkoui, justified by the use of article 81, proves that Islamaphobia plays a crucial role in deeming which grounds for arrest are “reasonable”.
The lives lost on 9/11 should not be forgotten, but the subsequent spike in North American Islamaphobia also deserves to remain in the public consciousness. Of the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives that day, many were Muslim. Their families were affected just as much as others. It is imperative that the current Islamaphobia not follow us into this new decade.