Monday, April 17, 2006

Is Islamaphobia a problem in Canada?

Every once in a while, you will always have people coming out of the woods playing the victimization card in hopes of raising a subject that's close to their core beliefs and values. One of the best tools to grab the headlines and attention of the general population is to raise the flag of racial or religious intolerance. Nothing makes the Western World rip its shirt in anger more than outright religious or ethnic intolerance practiced within its own borders (as it should, no respectful society should have to put up with injustice and inequality targeted at a specific group). But unfortunately, from time to time, the person whose raising the alarm over a so-called injustice usually exaggerates the situation and blows it out of proportion to make it seem that the problem is worse than it really is.

Enter Imran Syed, who wrote a editorial a few weeks ago in the Toronto Star warning about "Faint signs of Islamophobia" in Canada. What is Mr. Syed basing his fears of "Islamophobia" on? A trip to a department store where this event occurred:

A few days ago while entering a big-box store, I encountered what I thought was "Islamophobia."

The man in front of me was dressed in flowing robes, had a beard and was wearing a prayer cap. Accompanying him was a woman who was also wearing a flowing black robe that covered her entire person except for her eyes.

I had to show my membership card to a young woman who barely noticed I was there because she was engrossed in conversation with her colleague regarding the odd-looking couple that had just passed by: "Can you believe that? Why does she wear that? Because she's Mus-lum and she has to wear that."

As discreet as the two young women were trying to be, I could see the level of discomfort in their eyes and body language. They were right, the people who had just entered were, in fact, Muslim.

But that right there doesn't exactly convince me that the conversation had something of discomfort with Muslims in general. From what I can tell, the only thing the girls were uneasy about was the choice of clothing, and how it relates to that women's religion. And considering the circumstances: situated in a western, liberal society like Canada, where short skirts and tank tops pass of as the norm nowadays, a women covered from head to toe showing nothing but her eyes does indeed result in a bit of a culture shock for people who have lived almost their entire lives here.

Its not something they see everyday, and considering that high volume Muslim immigration into Canada is only a somewhat recent phenomenon (10-15 years), you can expect some level of culture shock to be in place among Canadians before they eventually accept sightings like this as a norm into their daily lives. It should be stated that culture shock to the choice of clothing isn't limited to the Muslim community alone, I've heard similar stories when it comes to Sikh men and their Turbans, Hindu women, and even Africans.

But as history as shown, whether it be Chinese, Italian or Eastern European immigrants, Canadian society eventually evolves and accepts the differences among its ethnic groups. But not without going through a period of awkwardness and culture shock at first. So this experience, while I wouldn't call it "normal", is not uncommon within the context.

Syed's second scenario is even less convincing of a signal of "Islamophobia".

While I was in the electronics aisle, the same couple walked by. Another shopper who was walking by with her son in the opposite direction quickly grabbed her son's arm and pulled him closer to her. That was odd, I thought, but this must be a protective mother who always keeps an eye on her son.

One has to wonder just how clueless Mr. Syed is of behavior of ordinary parents. A parent who grabs their child's arm and pulling the kid close to them while a stranger is walking in the opposite direction
is almost a reflex motion to all parents. Whether this happens in a department store, a shopping mall, the street, the park, a restaurant, anywhere. Parents are always protective of their kids (especially the young ones) in all public spaces, and it doesn't matter if the stranger walking on the opposite side is Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist. To use Syed's strange reasoning of the observation, if a old lady who pulls her purse closer to her chest whenever she gets passed an Anglo-Saxon teenager (which occurs almost every second in day light), the old lady has some reservation about the Caucasian race!

Now this is not to say that there isn't a "negative vibe" surrounding Muslims in Canada, I believe a certain tension between the Muslim Community and the rest of Canada does exist. But Syed's two examples are noting but paranoid and in a way, delusional.

And from there, Syed completely misses the point on why such a "negative vibe" exists in the first place.

The recent global uproar (albeit disproportionate) with respect to the Danish cartoons, the ongoing fiasco in Iraq and the "global war on terror" have many Canadians taking a jaundiced view of Islam and Muslims. The common thread in each of these global events is the lack of understanding of Islam and Muslims.

Now who do you think is to blame for that?! Could it be because Muslim groups in Canada have done a piss poor job of condemning the actions of the Islamists back in their homelands?, and at worse go on intimidating journalists and politicians who dare call suicide bombers for what they are as "racist" and "Islamophobic"? Could it be because the leaders of the organizations claiming to speak on behalf of the community have made shocking and derogatory remarks about Israelis and Jews? Could it be because of the terrorists who are fighting Canadian troops in Afghanistan as we speak are doing it in the name of Islam and what they perceive to be the ticket to paradise?

And most importantly, isn't it because the Muslim Canadian organizations are trying to muzzle any open debate discussing the connections between the Islamic texts and terrorism rather than taking part of these debates and convince the majority of Canadians that Muslims in this country can indeed live in a democratic society peacefully with those that have opinions that are different to theirs and in some occasions, hold opinions that would be heresy to their religious belief.

Running around yelling "Islamophobia" and "Racism" to shut off the critics of Islam not only re-enforces the conviction of those who hold these anti-Muslim views, but also convinces many Canadians that our community is at odds with theirs when it comes to free speech and suitable discussions in a democratic society. It is this, and not the chaos in the Middle East that's driving tensions between Muslim and Non-Muslim Canadians to new heights every day.

The sooner people like Imran Syed realize that, and begin to forcibly attack the cancerous fundamentalist ideology that exists in the Muslim world ins instead of focusing their efforts on Canadian journalists, academics and politicians, the sooner the this "Islamophobia" disappears.

Its quite ironic that its articles like this by the like of Syed, is what drives up the very thing they denounce every day.

All in all I think the vast majority of Canadians have no personal problems with their Muslim countrymen. But as long as events like this and this are done in the name of Islam, and the Muslim Canadian organization does nothing to flush it out of their belie ,that awkwardness Syed feels, will only grow.

FOR THE RECORD: I have never in any way shape or form experienced discrimination based on my religious beliefs in my entire 13 years as a Canadian citizen. Canadians in general, never go looking for trouble among its own people, and try to raise hell just for the sake of raising hell.


At Monday, 17 April, 2006, Blogger Omar Soliman said...

"Could it be because Muslim groups in Canada have done a piss poor job of condemning the actions of the Islamists back in their homelands?"

I know of many Muslim organizations in Canada that refuse, on principle, the "obligation" to speak on behalf of their (sometimes ignorant and mis-informed) associates half-way around the world. They see no responsibility therein, and I don't either. When was the last time you saw Christians in Canada apologizing on behalf of Pat Robertson's recent "fatwa" re: the assassination of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader? Good. We shouldn't expect Muslims in Canada to do so either.

I agree that the Muslim community in Canada can do a better job in articulating its core beliefs. But this fact does not, by itself, absolve the reality of Islamophobia.

You are right in saying that there are more constructive ways to mend certain Muslim vs. non Muslim tensions in Canada. You must understand, however, that Imran's advocacy plays an important role (among many other roles) to that end.

As such, I didn't see anything particularly wrong with his piece.

- Omar Soliman

P.S. Good blog, but as a fellow Arab (and Conservative), I should tell you that IT IS possible to combat the (occasional) ignorance and contradictions of our ppl and still be able to stand up for them when it matters. I've seen little of the "standing up" on your part. There surely exists a better role for you to play within your political circles than to completely write our ppl off.

At Monday, 17 April, 2006, Blogger PGP said...

Very good will anyone of the target audience take heed?

Soliman.....your comment on Robertson...BS. Robertson was roundly and publicly condemmed for his outrageous he often is.
It never shuts him up for long but outside of his core audience no-one has an rspect for him anyway. He is a loser and a mentla midget ...much like many of the immams who rant about jihad.

At Monday, 17 April, 2006, Blogger PGP said...

Omar Alghabra!

At Monday, 17 April, 2006, Blogger The Arabian Knight said...

Hi Omar,

My objection to Syed's article was mainly that he has chosen two poor examples to suggest that "Islamophobia" is alive and kicking in Canada.

And I have never suggested that that Muslim Canadians take a level of responsibility to what their associates back in the Muslim World.

I simply stated that they're using very poor means of communicating their points. Running around race-baiting evreyone by yelling "Islamophobia!" to every one who looks at the religion with a bad eye has the potential of backfiring on us. In short, I think the community leaders have stiffled an open discussion which can resolve this issue.

P.S. I am not writing my people off. Absolutly not. See my opinion on the whole Dubai port fallout, I am not affraid to call a spade a spade on all occasions. I only see a cancer that's growing in in our community (worldwide) and I feel that we have to play the biggest part in removing this cancer for the benefit of evreyone. Especially us. I cannot go on about as if we did'nt play a large (if not the largest) part in creatig this mess.

At Monday, 17 April, 2006, Blogger The Arabian Knight said...

BTW Omar, just visited your blog. And I love what I see so far. Especially that post on Canadian identity.

At Monday, 17 April, 2006, Blogger Winston said...

This is really terrifying me to see how Islamists are trying to dominate the world and force all of us to live under their backward caliphate

At Monday, 17 April, 2006, Blogger Omar Soliman said...

Fair enough. I look forward to discussing these matters with you further.

Many of your perspectives echo mine...great to see that I'm not the only "Arab Conservative" around...I have a friend at UofT who still thinks the successive use of those two terms is oxymoronic. I think that it is "moronic" to think so.

I'm going to be in Trois-Rivieres during May to study French, and will be making occasional stops to Montreal. It'd be great to get together...keep in touch.

At Monday, 17 April, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Victims are heroes in Canada so you have to play the part, there's good money in it. Pathetic.

At Tuesday, 18 April, 2006, Blogger The Arabian Knight said...

"I'm going to be in Trois-Rivieres during May to study French, and will be making occasional stops to Montreal. It'd be great to get together...keep in touch."

Sure. Drop me a line.

At Tuesday, 18 April, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too read that comment in the Star and expected the usual paranoia and rants of Islamophobia.
Two major points stood out, one was how he knew the religion of the workers since not every Muslim adheres to the stereotypical dress codes , and the second is the overt denial of any link to 9/11 by Islam and Muslims,or even that 24 Canadians were killed that day.

A Phobia is a unfounded fear , but with 3000 acts of terrorism by Muslims just since 9/11 , I find it very well founded to question Islam since Canada only has about 0.0003% of the worlds Muslims and maybe THEY have it all wrong.
The terrorists are willing to die for what they believe in, but some Muslims choose to move to Canada and bitch and whine while reverting to Islamophobia to get their way.

Has anyone else noticed that some Muslims leaders in Canada try to promote Islam by claiming it has killed less people than other faiths, Tarek Fatah was on TVO and claimed Christians murdered 100 million people in the last century.

maybe people like him should shut-up since i hear so much about how Jesus is in the Quran.

At Tuesday, 18 April, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that many muslims accuse people of being Islamophobic or racist as a way to stifle debate and criticism.

At my school there is a poster that was put up in response to the Danish cartoons. It says, "Stand up against Racism and Islamophobia." There is a picture of a group of young women all wearing hijabs, with angry expressions on their faces, with their fists clenched in the air.

Their goal is to counter Islamophobia, and they do this by showing a bunch of angry women with their fists in the air?

At Sunday, 23 April, 2006, Blogger Leap Frog said...

Glad to hear that AK re: your last paragraph, that's how I feel, doesn't concern me what your religion is or where you're from, just as long as you're as decent as you're being treated like by others, things go pretty well IMHO.

Nothings perfect, but no where is and no point in making it worse.

Show a bad attitude and you'll get 'in kind' as a response. Similar to the well worn saying: You get the respect you command from others by your actions. And that's not accomplished by just simply ordering it so through the UN ! ( for ze dense ones out there! )

At Friday, 16 July, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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