Nadia El-Mabrouk & François Dugré
Members of the Board of Rassemblement pour la laïcité (Alliance for Secularism)
This article was published on November 11th in French in Le Devoir under the title Le rapport sénatorial sur l’islamophobie est le fruit d’une intoxication idéologique
Irresponsible? Catastrophic? Incendiary? We hesitate to find the right adjective to describe the report on Islamophobia just tabled by the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights.
The Quebec City Mosque and London attacks have deeply shocked Canadians. All the hate crimes mentioned in the report are unacceptable, and governments have a responsibility to combat them and must do everything in their power to promote peaceful coexistence and the security of their citizens. But unduly amplifying the threat by portraying a climate of terror for Canadian Muslims can only do more harm. Statistics Canada’s figures bear out this alarmist thesis. Why deny, for example, that the Black and Jewish populations are by far the most frequent victims of hate crimes?
While this report does suggest a few reasonable measures, it prefers to paint a hideous, unvarnished picture of the situation of Canadian Muslims. They feel attacked, women and girls are “afraid to leave their homes for work, school, or even routine activities”, some are even subjected to Islamophobia daily.
Definition, secularism, and ideology
This is because the proposed definition of Islamophobia is very broad and encompasses as many cases as possible. For example, the failure to provide Muslims with space and time to pray in the workplace is considered Islamophobia, in the sense of anti-Muslim racism (p.58). The intersectional approach, like the notions of systemic Islamophobia and unconscious microaggressions, also serves to amplify the phenomenon.
The report also reiterates a highly caricatural understanding of the Loi sur laïcité de l’État (Bill 21). The witnesses interviewed, who conflate respect for individuals with absolute respect for the precepts of Islam, “broadly agreed that Bill 21 is discriminatory, that it has exacerbated Islamophobia, and that it should be repealed.” (p. 57). It is even accused of “dehumanizing people.” The Senate Committee did not hear from a single one of the many Muslims who support Bill 21.
The report also avoids thinking about the reality of violent Islamism and the legitimate fear it raises, including among Muslims themselves. Of the 138 witnesses heard during the 21 public sessions, only Rachad Antonius addresses this issue explicitly, but the report ignores him. To hear the other witnesses tell it, there are only prejudices and stereotypes to be combated with media campaigns and compulsory training against unconscious bias for all civil servants and students.
The report retains only what lends credence to a foregone conclusion. Any statistical discrepancy, such as the under-representation of Muslims among civil servants or their over-representation in prisons, is taken as “proof” of systemic Islamophobia, without ever looking for another, more plausible explanation. The report also confuses ideology with science by claiming, without justification, that “the greatest threat to national security comes from White supremacist groups.”(p.45) In doing so, they choose to remain silent about a document on Canada’s counter-terrorism strategy, which states that “Violent Islamist extremism is the leading threat to Canada’s national security.”
An offensive against state institutions dedicated to security
It is the institutions responsible for national security that haunt this report. Five of the 13 recommendations are devoted to this, but in the opposite direction to what one would expect from a credible Senate Committee. In fact, the latter seems to be slavishly following the recommendations of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), against which we have already warned here. The NCCM is calling for nothing less than the suspension of the National Strategy to combat extremism and radicalization and the Review and Analysis Division (RAD) of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), which is responsible for identifying threats of terrorist financing in Canada through charitable organizations. Instead, they propose to scrutinize national security agencies, including CSIS, and Canada’s border services, which they suspect of racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic and even “White supremacist penetration” practices.
The Senate Committee approves of all this, stating that “laws, policies and practices relating to national security are deeply rooted in Islamophobia and continue to perpetuate bias against Muslims” (p. 46). The proof? 75% of RAD revocations were of Muslim charities, despite Muslim charities representing less than 1% of all charities in Canada (p. 51). Despite the testimony of Sharmila Khare (GD of the CRA’s Charities Directorate) explaining that “RAD audits are only undertaken when there is a risk of terrorism abuse,” the report nevertheless concludes that the RAD “has demonstrated structural bias against Muslim charities” (p. 51). The very fact that the Department of Finance’s risk-based assessment model is, according to law professor Anver Emon, “an express statement of Islamophobia.” Better still, that a Canadian traveling to Gaza and fighting for Hamas should become a suspect for the government would be, he adds, an example of “systemic Islamophobia”! Is it necessary to point out that the Senate Committee loses all credibility by “forgetting” that Hamas is on Canada’s list of terrorist entities, and that by lumping Islam and violent Islamism together under the umbrella of Islamophobia, it undermines its citizens’ sense of security?
How can such irresponsible intoxication be explained? Perhaps part of the explanation lies in the fact that the Chair of this Senate Committee, Salma Ataullahjan, is still an advisor to the NCCM. Lastly, we recall that this organization is one of the plaintiffs before the courts to invalidate Bill 21.