Anti-Islamophobia motion offers a chance to take a stand against hatred. Why quibble over semantics?

Islamophobia is absolutely deserving of special mention

By Amira Elghawaby
CBC News Opinion | February 19, 2017

A multitude of far-fetched theories are being peddled about a parliamentary motion that seeks to have MPs study and find solutions to Islamophobia, discrimination and systemic racism in Canada.

Some have deemed M-103 as the first step toward Sharia law in Canada. Others have called it a “modern day blasphemy law.” A handful of Conservative leadership candidates are warning it will seriously erode free speech in Canada.

This is all nonsense.

The motion, which was tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, simply calls on the federal government to do three things: recognize the need to “quell the rising public climate of hate and fear; condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination;” and “request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study” of these issues and propose solutions.

It is a motion, not a bill, meaning it will not change Canada’s laws or limit freedom of expression in any way. Rather, it is an opportunity for Canadian parliamentarians to take an unequivocal stand against hatred, and to demonstrate that racism and discrimination will be taken seriously as a threats against our collective well-being.

Singling out Islamophobia

Many critics, including those from the Conservative bench, have taken issue with the fact that M-103 singles out Islamophobia for particular mention. Curiously, they had no issue unanimously supporting a parliamentary motion in 2015 that rightly condemned anti-Semitism, and which called on the federal government to “advance the combating of anti-Semitism as a domestic and international priority.” That was fine then, so what’s the problem now?

As to the question of why mention “Islamophobia” in the motion at all: first off, the term is widely accepted and recognized — both in academic and public discourse — as referring to the irrational fear and hatred of Muslims, which can lead to discrimination and violence. Former justice minister Irwin Cotler has suggested replacing “Islamophobia” in the M-103 text with “anti-Muslim bigotry” in order to help the motion pass, but that’s just playing semantic games for political purposes. Islamophobia is the correct term here, and we shouldn’t avoid it just because it makes some people uncomfortable.

Second of all, Islamophobia is absolutely deserving of special mention, particularly in the wake of the killing of six Canadian Muslims who were worshipping in a Quebec mosque last month. In addition, according to recent polls, more Canadians hold biased views of Muslims than any other group in society, and Muslims face the most discrimination. Hate crimes against Muslims have doubled over the most recent three-year period for which we have the numbers – the most significant increase of any group surveyed.

Creating political hay over the wording of this motion undermines the marginalization and hate experienced on a regular basis by Canadian Muslims. If nothing else, the onslaught of hate mail and death threats directed at Iqra Khalid following her introduction of this motion shows that the implications here go way beyond scoring political points: we’re talking about people’s lives. One would hope our politicians would take that more seriously.

Sowing fear

One would’ve also thought that the Conservatives would have learned from the last federal election about the failed tactic of sowing fear and division. It seems very few have. The politician who has broken with the pack, however, is Conservative leadership hopeful Michael Chong, who, in the aftermath of the mosque attack in Quebec, wrote:

“It’s time to say, ‘enough’. Playing footsie with hate is anathema to Canadians’ values. It is dangerous, it is cynical and we need to root it out.”

Chong is standing behind his words by committing to vote for Khalid’s motion. Clearly, he gets it. It’s unfortunate that few of his fellow Conservatives do, too.

Amira Elghawaby is communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).