Content warning: Islamophobia, Islamophobic violence
On January 29, 2017, Azzeddine Soufiane, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry, Aboubaker Thabti, and Khaled Belkacemi were killed, and 19 others injured, in a mass shooting in the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City. This massacre is indicative of deep-seated and widespread Islamophobia. Following the event’s one-year commemoration, it is important to recognize ongoing prejudice and violence enacted against Muslim communities. We need to recognize this as Islamophobia, to name the distinct political and ideological underpinnings to these acts of hate, centered on the “War on Terror” rhetoric. In addition, we must actively support Muslim communities in combating Islamophobia.
Quebec’s legislative history shows that the province has not taken substantial measures against Islamophobia, and has failed to support Muslim communities. In March of 2017, Liberal MP Iqra Khalid proposed Bill M-103, which passed as a non-binding motion which was merely symbolic in condemning “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” Despite M-103, the number of reported incidents of Islamophobia in Quebec City doubled in 2017, with 42 incidents recorded by the police. The recent passing of Bill 62 in October, which bans people from wearing religious face-coverings — like the niqab or burqa — while accessing government services, exists under the guise of religious neutrality, but is an act of state violence against the Muslim community. Islamophobia continues to pervade the lives of Canadian Muslims, and must be eliminated.
The pervasiveness of Islamophobia extends as far as the language we use in describing the experiences of marginalized communities, particularly when articulating acts of violence. After the NCCM (National Council of Canadian Muslims) sent a letter urging Trudeau to endorse the anniversary of the shooting as a national day of remembrance and action against Islamophobia, the Parti Quebecois (PQ) argued that the term Islamophobia was “too controversial” and should be changed to “anti-Muslim sentiment”. On January 22, McGill’s administration sent an initial email with the heading “Anniversary of Islamic Massacre,” which they then changed to “Commemorative Ceremony Paying Homage to the Victims of the Islamic Cultural Centre Massacre.” We must be careful of trivializing phrases like “anniversary” and “anti-Muslim sentiment” to describe devastating events. This practice is diminutive and obscures the clear violence of the massacre. Furthermore, we should be wary of calling for “tolerance,” a term often used to shift responses to discrimination towards a diplomatic agenda that does not necessitate active support. Lastly, we cannot focus on condemning Islamophobia only on days of remembrance.
We must be active in combating Islamophobia daily through conversation with those who experience and work against it directly. For example, students can reach out to NCCM, an independent, nonprofit organization that advocates for civil liberties and human rights to challenge Islamophobia within Canadian communities. Financial support for Aymen Derbali, who was shot several times at the mosque and subsequently paralyzed, can be donated here to fund an accessible home for him and his family. To combat Islamophobia in our daily lives, it is important to question our own use of language in response to micro-aggressions and larger acts of violence.