The horrific murders of Muslims in Ontario are only the latest atrocity in an Islamophobic climate cultivated by the Canadian establishment, writes John Clarke
Nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal is in serious condition in a hospital in London, Ontario following a murderous Islamphobic attack on June 6 that took the lives of his mother, father, sister and grandmother. The family was deliberately run down by a vehicle driven by 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman.
At a press conference following the attack, a police spokesperson stated, “There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate,” adding that, “We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith.”
Veltman has now been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder. It is reported that terrorism related charges are also under consideration.
As might be expected, this terrible act has profoundly shaken London’s Muslim community. “People are afraid. People are angry. They are demanding action more than statements,” said Munir El-Kassem, imam of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario. The killing of the members of this family is part of a horrible pattern of Islamophobic hatred and violence in Canada.
In January of 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette, a young man with ‘an obsession with the far right, mass killers, Donald Trump and Muslims,’ entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, and opened fire on the worshippers inside. Six people were killed and nineteen more were seriously injured.
The mass killings in London and Quebec City are, moreover, only the most horrible and extreme expressions of the abuse and violence that Muslims face in Canada every day of the year. Almost certainly, most manifestations of anti-Muslim hatred never come to public attention but the National Council of Canadian Muslims is aware of 300 such incidents between 2015 and 2019, ‘including more than 30 acts of physical violence.’ Muslim women especially face ongoing harassment and physical attacks, and these continue to surface in media reports.
Canadian political leaders have responded to the murders in London with a predictable outpouring of fake outrage. The office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a statement declaring “The horrific and deliberate attack on a Muslim family in London has left our province in mourning.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went further in deploring what had happened. “Their lives were taken in a brutal, cowardly, and brazen act of violence. This killing was no accident,” he said. “This was a terrorist attack motivated by hatred in the heart of one of our communities.”
Trudeau wasn’t wrong to suggest that this hate-filled killing can be considered an act of terrorism. He was also correct to say that what took place was ‘no accident.’ However, an honest exploration of the factors that underlie this attack would not be to the PM’s liking. The ‘hatred in the heart’ that he spoke of is a vicious Islamophobia that has been orchestrated by various sections of the Canadian establishment. It may well emerge that the killer was linked to or influenced by the far-right but it would be a mistake to view anti-Muslim sentiment in Canada as a problem of ‘extremism’ because it is very much a mainstream phenomenon.
Islamophobia exists in the context of a broader and deep-seated racism within Canadian Society. It is linked to an agenda of ‘endless war’ in countries with majority Muslim populations and to the targeting of Muslims living within Canada as an ‘enemy within.’ The major media outlets have pushed the message of the ‘Islamic terrorist’ and promoted the notion of ‘barbaric cultural practices.’
A fact sheet developed by the Noor Cultural Centre points out that print media in this country ran four times as many articles on the Boston Marathon bombing as on the 2017 mass shooting in the Quebec City mosque, despite the latter having happened in Canada with a greater number of victims.
As Canadian military forces have dropped bombs on Muslim populations and participated in wars on the ground against them, the message has been driven home that Western ‘civilisation’ is under attack. The stretch of road into Toronto that was used to transport the bodies of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan was dubbed the ‘Highway of Heroes’ to whip up as much patriotic support as possible for an attack on a Muslim country.
The same message of defending Western values from a dangerous enemy has been evident in Canada’s ongoing support for Israel and its oppression of the Palestinians. Former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, made this very clear in 2013 when he described the Zionist state as “a light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness.”
Islamophobia has been fuelled to an enormous degree by the persecution and intense demonisation of Muslim people and their communities. Under the guise of combating terrorism, security certificates have been used to detain ‘foreign nationals’ on weak evidence and without charge. Muslim travellers have found themselves placed on ‘no-fly lists’ without reason. High profile ‘terror plots’ that have made headlines for weeks, have been largely the result of police pressure and manipulation.
In 2015, the federal Conservatives ran for re-election on a platform that included a pledge to set up a ‘barbaric cultural practices’ hotline for bigots and hatemongers to use against their Muslim neighbours. It was part of the Tory focus on ‘Canadian values.’ The same year, Zunera Ishaq had to fight a lengthy legal battle in order to win the right to take her oath of citizenship while wearing a niqab.
To be sure, the Trudeau Liberals are careful to avoid the crude antics of their Tory predecessors but the fundamental factors driving Islamophobia remain in place. In Quebec, the government of François Legault introduced the infamous Bill 21 to ‘ban public workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols’ in the interests of ‘secularism.’ This was, of course, primarily a means of whipping up Islamophobia and there was, indeed, an increase in the level of threats and abuse Muslim women faced after the tabling of the legislation.
Canada’s political leaders pursue a course, internationally and domestically, that generates Islamophobia and then react to what has just happened in London as if it is something inexplicable. The growth of the far-right and acts of right-wing terror are certainly a very major question but it is vital to understand that the sickening hatred that took the lives of those innocent Muslim people has deep roots in this society. They can’t be seen as the work of an extremist fringe.
Just days ago, Justin Trudeau ordered flags across the country to be flown at half mast to mark the discovery of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children at the site of a former residential school. Those children, and many others like them throughout Canada, died at the hands of a system of enforced assimilation that was racist to its core. There is a link between those terrible schools and the act of Islamophobic hatred that killed the members of the family in London. We must understand that in order to challenge the system that produces such horrors.
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John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.
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