Quebec mosque shooting shows need for dialogue, not rhetoric

By Razia Hamidi
Montreal Gazette | 9 February 2017

The heartbreaking massacre Sunday in a Quebec City mosque has been emotionally draining for Canadian Muslims. My husband and I regularly visit various mosques in Montreal for evening prayers, and to know such a tragedy could have unfolded in front of our eyes left us shocked.

How did we get to this point? The answer is obvious, and should not come as a surprise. My Facebook has been filled with people sharing how they have always feared this day would come.

Sadly, for many of us, the question is not why this “finally happened,” but “how many more?” When will we realize that years of Islamophobic rhetoric have built up to to this, and that the increase in hate crimes we have seen against Muslims across Canada were all warning signs?

When earlier in the year a pig’s head was left at the mosque’s entrance, some in the media called it a joke. The belittling of the systematic hate that Muslims face, and labelling such events as isolated instances, only further cultivates hostility against Canadian Muslims. A stronger stance must be taken by all levels of leadership against hate speech and incidents before we’re faced with another massacre.

Canadian Muslims find themselves in a truly turbulent and disturbing situation. Over the past decade, certain politicians and news outlets have created an atmosphere that has emboldened a culture of Islamophobia and fear of Muslims.

There’s no doubt that the political rhetoric we have witnessed in Quebec and across Canada over the last decade has contributed to the spread of Islamophobia. A 2016 study by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation found only 24 per cent French-Canadians and 49 per cent of English-Canadians had a positive view of Muslims.

Canadian Muslims all too often face hate and discrimination. In one incident, a young high school student I work with was told by her teacher in front of her peers that she shouldn’t come to school with “that thing” on her head. I wear the hijab too, and there have been moments when I felt I had to look over my shoulder as I stepped out, or feared harm when walking alone. My loyalty always seems to be questioned; and for some, my choice of religious dress is a point of contention.

As an activist in Montreal and someone who works with youth in different capacities, I often deal with students dealing with anxiety of confronting Islamophobia in their classes and workplaces. Many fear speaking out because the media and political rhetoric have for too long portrayed their values and beliefs as being at odds with Canadian values.

There needs to be a change in the rhetoric around how Muslim Canadians are spoken of. Numerous politicians, media outlets, religious organizations and community members have echoed this sentiment since the Quebec City shooting. The terms Islamist, or jihadist, are commonly thrown around by pundits and politicians, but these terms are foreign to the vast majority of Canadian Muslims, who do not identify with them. These labels further incite fear and marginalize Canadian Muslims.

We don’t need more photo ops and empty promises, but a tangible framework for changing the discussion around issues that affect Muslims. Canadian Muslims need to be part of the dialogue and called on for their knowledge.

We need engagement with not just mosques, but Canadian Muslim organizations that represent the voices of Muslim Canadians. Get to know their leadership and call on them as allies when framing the dialogue that surrounds Canadian Muslims: organizations such as National Council of Canadian Muslims, Canadian Council of Imams and Islamic Society of North America.

Razia Hamidi works with youth organizations across Canada developing programs and outreach. She chairs the Montreal Stronger Together committee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).