Anti-semitism and Islamophobia are two sides of the same coin

By Mustafa Farooq
Edmonton Journal | May 9, 2019

On April 27, in what feels like only a few days ago, a 19-year-old man walked into the Chabad of Poway synagogue in a San Diego suburb and opened fire on worshippers celebrating Passover. Lori Gilbert-Kaye was tragically murdered, and three others were wounded in the attack.

While the investigation remains ongoing, the perpetrator seems to have been inspired, as per an online manifesto, by white supremacy. The gunman praised Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people and wounded six others in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shootings six months ago.

Yet his online manifesto was not simply limited to anti-Semitism. The gunman also made it clear that his hatred extended, as well, to the Muslim community. The accused also took responsibility for an arson fire at the Islamic Center in Escondido on March 24 in the context of the New Zealand shootings.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the arson attack at the Edson mosque less than a year ago. I remember driving to the mosque, and seeing the burnt entrance, a sign of what could have been had the fire not been caught earlier.

I don’t want to write about the shooter. I don’t want to think about him for another second. The old Hebrew curse, “yimach shemo” — may his name be erased — comes to mind. I would much rather think about Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot in the hand and, even while wounded, continued to calm the congregation, telling people to stay strong. I would much rather think about Lori Gilbert-Kaye — a beloved pioneer of the community. Goldstein noted that, “Lori took the bullet for all of us.”

I would like to think about how North Americans — Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist, and all others — came together to mourn and stand in solidarity with each other. Indeed, the horrors of the last two months — with the New Zealand shootings, the Sri Lanka church bombings and the synagogue shooting — have shown us that our humanity, our love for each other despite differences in creed and belief, shines brighter than anything else.

This weekend, rabbis and imams made “rings of peace” around local churches across the country in solidarity with the Sri Lanka attacks, showing that those who push hate and violence will not divide us.

But we also have to talk about the fact that the white-supremacist views of the gunman involved both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The gunman’s hate against Muslims and Jews are not simply two discrete conceptions — rather, in reading his text, his hatred against the two communities is interwoven. That’s important for us here in Canada to think about.

For it appears that white supremacy has returned out of the dead earth. Or had it ever gone away? White supremacists take to the streets in Edmonton on a weekly basis, chanting the “14 words” of neo-Nazi white supremacy.

Elsewhere, groups like the Soldiers of Odin (founded by neo-Nazis in Europe) and others have equally Islamophobic and anti-immigrant sentiments. At the other end of the country, in Quebec, Muslims, Jews and Sikhs are being targeted by the CAQ’s Bill 21. Bill 21 proposes the usage of the notwithstanding clause to bypass the constitutional rights of Canadians to prohibit Muslims and Jews from wearing religious symbols in the public sector.

The attack on one religious community is an attack on all communities. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism — and indeed all forms of hate — are two sides of the same coin: the dark coin of white supremacy. And the forces of white supremacy, as the 20th century so clearly shows us, are a threat to all Canadians who love peace and democratic values.

I can’t help but think that if there is any lesson to draw from the horrors that have taken place over the last two months, it is that solidarity between Canadian Muslims and Jews, and solidarity among all Canadians who abhor white supremacy, has never been more important than it is today.

Mustafa Farooq is a lawyer and the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.