Are we ignoring the threat of xenophobic extremism in Canada?
February 15, 2016
OTTAWA — Copies of Hitler’s manifesto, available for the first time in Germany since the fall of the Nazis, sold out in under a week. While historians insist that its popularity is solely attributed to it being a historical document, it nonetheless reminds us that the types of odious views expressed in Mein Kampf still find quarter in our societies today.
Jewish communities know all too well what it is like to be a target of supremacist ideology. Swastikas are often the public manifestations of this hate, lately also popping up alongside anti-Muslim graffiti, as reported last month at a York community centre.
It’s distressing to learn that anti-immigant and largely far right-wing xenophobic ideologies (which surprisingly align with strident pro-Zionist ideology at times) appear to be gaining traction in Canada, as chronicled in a recent Maclean’s article.
Many of these diatribes are rooted in complete ignorance of Canadian history. They hearken to a (fabled) time when Canada was all-white and often argue that Canadian “values” are under threat. But as journalist Doug Saunders and many others have chronicled, these types of attitudes have emerged periodically over the decades with the same narratives targeting different ethnic and religious communities. They exemplify a whitewashing of our history and should compel Canadians to speak out forcefully in articulating the multiple identities that make our country whole.
Such views are not only delusional, they’re also dangerous. Law enforcement agencies have identified extreme right wing and/or race-motivated attacks the biggest threat to Canada. In the past 15 years, 59 per cent of lone wolf attacks were motivated by such extreme movements. This reality raises important questions including whether this phenomenon is being adequately addressed.
How will certain narratives, circulating most frequently on social media, impact societal attitudes around refugee resettlement, for example? Ignoring the underlying and divisive currents of anti-immigrant and Islamophobic sentiments poses a significant risk to our valued social cohesion.
In Canada, the previous government funded an interesting video project called “Extreme Dialogue,” featuring Christianne Boudreau, the mother of a young man who was killed after joining extremists overseas. It also features Danial Gallant, a former violent right-wing extremist. He recently shared his own personal frustration with the lack of attention the movement he fled has garnered.
“In my view law enforcement and government do not offer appropriate nor effective response to right wing activity; and definitely not to the extent that we respond to the ‘jihadist’ movement,” he shared recently.
We are now experiencing economic uncertainty at a time of rising Islamophobia and the arrival of thousands of Syrian refugees. To pretend that Canadians are somehow immune to feelings of anger, frustration and xenophobia is to ignore past history. It took entrenching multiculturalism into law in the 1970s for Canadians to understand that this was not just a pie in the sky, nor was it simply turning to “sunny ways.” It was a policy requirement necessary for the success of our country. (Besides, we also must acknowledge that much of our society’s openness relates to historical interactions with First Nations, as scholars like John Ralston Saul have posited).
Considering the documented rise in anti-Muslim attacks and the increased number of human rights complaints that we are witnessing, we must take note and find solutions that further strengthen our pluralism.
Geopolitical realities today tell us that Muslims and Islam will likely continue to dominate world headlines for all the wrong reasons. The impact on minorities will continue to be felt with serious ramifications for everyone, regardless of background. Suspicious, intolerant communities only breed resentment and lead to division—the very conditions that could fuel the violent extremism that concerns us all.
It will take more than speeches and visits to places of worship; though those are most welcome and necessary. The problem of xenophobic extremism requires effective policies and education emanating from the very highest office to the most grassroots of community groups and associations.
Left festering, hatred will continue to show its ugliness—and as we’ve witnessed before—it’s an ugliness that can grow into something far more sinister if we aren’t vigilant.
Amira Elghawaby is the communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).
The Hill Times