Fighting Islamophobia 101: Notes

“Rebecca”: “Help me understand where you are coming from. Canada was built by colonialism. Some of the benefits I am sure are reasons you fled your country of origin. So what I don’t understand is why you would want to rage against a system to try to make it like the country’s system that caused you to flee? Freedom of speech is important for our democracy to work. Islam isn’t a race it is an ideology that we both know doesn’t fit with the western values. I guess you could help me understand why you don’t return to your country of origin and rage for change there? Canadians have fought wars for our democracy to which you have benefited, so yes a little gratitude would be expected. We have shared our way of life and you want to change the very things that brought you here. It doesn’t make sense. Would you be aloud to say what you’ve said in your country of origin? Would you’re children be safe in your country of origin? Would you even allow your daughter to date a Canadian? I think you should be asking the mosque in nz why they would support isis and call out all that do. That would help bring trust to your religion and therefore safety. It isn’t a race thing.” Source

How Do We Fight Islamophobia?

Step 1: Understand It

Step 2: Unlearn It Ourselves

Step 3: Support those targeted by it, with priority given to the most vulnerable

Step 4: Engage with those who perpetrate it, using “calling in” whenever safe and realistic (ya, I know it’s a systemic thing but you gotta start somewhere…)

Let’s Try to Understand Islamophobia…

Ontario Human Rights Commission Definition:

Islamophobia can be described as stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia leads to viewing Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.”

My attempt at a definition:

Islamophobia is a form of discrimination that involves religion, race, and ideas of citizenship and national boundaries, impacting Muslims and those perceived as Muslims.

Islamophobia involves racism as it often targets racialized Muslims as well as racialized people perceived to be Muslims and can sometimes argue that there is something INNATELY Violent, Aggressive, Backwards and “Uncivilized” about Muslims because of their perceived race.

Islamophobia involves xenophobia as Muslims are framed as “foreigners” or “invaders” who have no legitimate claim to belonging as citizens of a nation-state.

But first and foremost, Islamophobia is about discrimination against people who are perceived to believe in Islam, which, as Islam is perceived as a rival to Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or secular ways of life, its followers are perceived as inherently threatening to what is framed as the “normal” way of life of those who are not Muslims. In some cases, Islam is not even seen as a sincerely held faith but as instead a political ideology whose followers only POSE as followers of a faith in order to manipulate people into granting them rights and accommodations.

Muslims are perceived as being a monolithic community, making one Muslim interchangeable with another, responsible and answerable for the actions of another, with no recognition of diversity of thought, debates, or individual opinion among Muslims about religion, politics, human rights, etc.

Islamophobia is a global phenomenon that is connected to dissatisfaction with government policies of immigration, perceived and real economic and social instability, concerns about national security, and the perceived lack of concern about the lives of “authentic” citizens of the nation-state by their governments.

Some manifestations of Islamophobia are routed in lived or “imported” trauma. People who have had real experiences of discrimination or persecution by Muslims justified in the name of Islam within their families or in Muslim majority countries, may project this trauma onto Muslims who have no direct connection to these experiences.

It is important to keep in mind that Canada is home to many refugees who have fled persecution in Muslim majority countries because of their religion, political beliefs, gender or sexual orientation. These manifestations of Islamophobia need to be addressed with a focus on understanding, empathy,  “calling in” and if possible reconciliation.

The more vulnerable you are, the more you may be a target for Islamophobic attacks.

Islamophobia is often amplified when it intersects with wearing hijab or niqab, socio-economic marginalization, anti-Black racism, and other forms of marginalization.

Often in attempts to challenge Islamophobia, Muslims and non-Muslims further marginalized the most vulnerable within Muslim communities.

According to American researcher Namira Islam, “…the narrative campaigns that are launched in response to Islamophobia fixate around “Muslims who are just like you”, i.e., the typical American non-Muslim. This still allows space for narratives—and, thus, policies—that alienate and target the Muslims who are not like the typical American non-Muslim, i.e., those Muslims who are “too religiously conservative” or fail to meet another standard about who deserves protection from discrimination. This often includes Muslims who speak accented or broken English, Muslims who are low-income, and/or Muslims who have a criminal background. Thus, when narrative campaigns predominantly feature middle to upper class Muslims who are from white collar professions or are involved in law enforcement or national security work, larger issues of class, xenophobia, and our broken systems of immigration and mass incarceration play a role in leaving certain Muslims vulnerable to Islamophobia.”

“A father recently wanted his children removed from a Toronto music class, citing religious reasons. The school did its best to accommodate the father’s requests by offering alternatives to his children such as not playing instruments and writing a paper on Islam’s long history of religious-inspired music. But those compromises were rejected. Accommodation has to be a two-way street for it to work. To continually reject a reasonable compromise is also a form of extremism.

If a parent feels this strongly about an issue, they have two options: find a religious private school or home school. But to ask a public institution to create an environment that is micro-managed to appeal to every minute religious request is unreasonable. If you take the anti-music logic to the extreme, how can that parent buy groceries in stores where music is playing, eat in a restaurant or even go up an elevator in which many non-Muslims could get behind a music ban for the sake of some peace and quiet?

The school board offered reasonable solutions and a middle way, which was very Muslim of them, but they were rejected. So if you’re going to be extreme in your response, then typically what happens is that people find enclaves to live their lives separately with their own set of rules. The most infamous example of this is the community of Mormons in Bountiful, B.C., where a sect of Christians believe that polygamy and child marriage is part of its belief system. Because these practices contravene the Canadian Criminal Code, the community has opted to separate itself from the larger majority to minimize their dealings with law enforcement. Muslims have chosen to not live in separate enclaves.” Source

Canadian academic Shelina Kassam, in her thesis on “The Acceptable Muslim” in Canadian discourse, particularly media, notes that often only ONE RACE of Muslim is seen as “Acceptable” in Canadian public discourse. “Against the backdrop of the white gaze, it is significant that the four Canadian Acceptable Muslim figures are all of South Asian descent. In fact, in my analysis of data from Canadian media (Chapter 3), it is clear that the Muslim body is often positioned as a brown body (i.e. South Asian or Arab). In my data sample, there are no identifiable Acceptable Arab Muslims, at least not in English-language media discourses (there may well be in French language media discourses, but this is beyond the scope of the current project). I suggest that Arab Muslims, while consistently present in media discourses (see my analysis in chapter 3), are usually represented as inassimilable, embodying immutable characteristics of extremism or so-called primitive cultural/religious traditions. Arab Muslims are depicted in Canadian media discourse either as angry men, violence in their tainted blood or as oppressed women, who require rescue. In either case, Arab Muslims are not often positioned in Canadian media discourse as Acceptable Muslims. Further, also noticeably absent from Canadian media discourses are Black Muslims, despite their actual numbers and presence (e.g. Somali Muslims in Toronto). Indeed, Canadian discourse is noticeably silent about the Black Muslim body, whether the Muslim Other or the Acceptable Muslim. As I observe earlier, narratives about Blackness in Canada revolve around absence, erasure, displacement or ‘from elsewhere’, narratives which place them (erroneously and fictively) outside the boundaries of the nation. In the contemporary context, Black bodies are often coded in Canadian public and media discourse as ‘problems’, bodies that are 335 read as requiring the force of state systemic violence. The absence of Acceptable Black Muslims reinforces the ideological representations of Blackness: contemporary Black bodies are coded as violent and dangerous (and hence, subject to state violence and forcible repression). On the other hand, brown bodies are coded as either marginally acceptable or excluded (and hence, to be surveilled, regulated or rescued from their primitive existences). In this context, acceptability (and conditional inclusion) coalesces on South Asian Muslim bodies, who, according to the Canadian narrative, are more likely to hold acceptable (read: white-identified or white-favouring) perspectives than are Black bodies. (p. 347)

Black Muslims in Canada experience “Anti-Black Islamophobia”, a term coined by Burundian Muslim Canadian academic Delice Mugabo to describe the reality that Black Muslims in Canada face discrimination from Muslims because of their Blackness and from non-Muslims for being Black and Muslim. As Dr. Fatimah Best states in “Black Muslims in Canada: A Systemic Review, “Mugabo’s term provides a theoretical framework that amplifies the specific kinds of racism and discrimination experienced by Black Muslims and individuals who are perceived to be Black and Muslim; it also describes how Black Muslims become erased from dominant narratives about Muslim identity by non-Black Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”

My Story

Black

Social Assistance Recipient

Kimberly Rogers

“While racial profiling and sexual harassment may have grabbed the public spotlight, being poor and living on assistance is more likely to elicit hostility and prejudice than race, skin colour or gender — although being Muslim is marginally worse for this.

According to an Ontario Human Rights Commission survey released Friday, one in five Ontarians have negative feelings against those on social assistance, surpassing their unfavourable views against all other groups, except Muslims, who were disliked by 21 per cent of the respondents.

“People on social assistance tend to map out against the (human rights) code grounds . . . racialized, Indigenous, people with disabilities, single parent. What this data shows us is that even stripping that away, there is a unique form of discrimination that poor people face,” Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane said.” Source

Mental Illness

Document and Research Islamophobia, particularly as experienced by vulnerable communities:

Prioritize consultations exploring the experiences of Islamophobia of Muslims who are/experience:

Hijabi or Niqabi

Recipients of social assistance

Housing insecurity (shelters, low-income housing, renters)

Food insecurity

Job Seekers

Living with a mental illness or addiction

Refugee claimants

Immigration Detention

Not speaking the official languages

Speaking Accented English/French

Pedestrians

Users of public transit

Empower Communities with the Means to Support Themselves

We need to prioritize supporting Muslims themselves over “outreach” to Non-Muslims

Flip the Script: Disrupt Islamophobic Discources among Muslims and non-Muslims

Create Spaces for genuine engagement and dialogue between ORDINARY Muslims and ORDINARY non-Muslims

Find ways to share the stories of ordinary Muslims over op-eds by the same Muslim voices over and over again

Find ways to share the stories of Muslims whose work causes them to interact, sometimes intimately, with non-Muslims ie tax drivers, bus drivers, food service workers, child-care providers, early childhood educators, personal support workers, social service workers, nurses….

Address Concerns about applications of Sharia Law in Canada and in Muslim majority countries with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

Address Concerns about Treatment of Religious Minorities in Muslim Majority Countries with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

Address Concerns about the Treatment of Ex-Muslims with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

Address Concerns about Homophobia and Transphobia with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

Address Concerns about Muslim Political Movements with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

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