While Quebec Muslims mourn, politicians play word games

By Editorial Board
The Globe and Mail | January 10, 2018

Linguists call it semantic change, whereby a word evolves to represent something other than its original meaning. An obvious example from our current political discourse is “Islamophobia.”

It’s a noun, and not an especially inventive one, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.”

Sounds straightforward enough, until someone asks the Coalition Avenir Québec, currently leading the polls ahead of next fall’s Quebec provincial election, or the Parti Québécois, to use the word and denounce what it stands for.

A group of 70 mostly Muslim associations has petitioned the federal government to designate Jan. 29, the first anniversary of the terror attack on a Quebec City mosque that claimed six innocents and wounded 19 more, a national day of commemoration and action against Islamophobia.

The CAQ won’t hear of the latter bit. The party voiced its opposition, saying “[the attack] is the intolerable act of a single individual and not that of an entire society. Quebecers are open and welcoming, they are not Islamophobic.”

That’s a curious thing to say, because it rebuts a charge no one involved in the memorial effort is levelling.

. . .

The fact is that Islamophobia – in the only sense of the word that matters – exists in Quebec, as it does in Canada at large. To admit so will never prevent anyone from legitimately criticizing Islamic extremism, or arm the word with the power to silence.

But to cowardly tiptoe around semantics when anti-Muslim hate crimes have mushroomed is a terrible failing. According to Statistics Canada, crimes targeting Muslims in Canada increased 253 per cent between 2012 and 2015 – a statistic that doesn’t include the massacre of last year.

Politicians who play this word game are blind to reality, and are helping to make a serious problem even worse.

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