Creating a bogeyman

The fuss over Justin Trudeau’s Park Ex mosque visit is unwarranted and disturbing

By Ihsaan Gardee
Montreal Gazette | August 15, 2014

There are more than 1 million Muslims living in Canada today. Is the community supposed to know what each and every one of them is up to, at any given time? Of course not; the question is both preposterous and offensive.

And yet Canada’s governing party, encouraged by cheerleaders at Sun News, want Canadians to believe that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau knows what Muslims are up to (no good), and that he supports them anyway.

Both have accused Trudeau of knowingly visiting a Montreal mosque, in Park Extension, that was briefly frequented by an alleged extremist more than a decade ago. This type of fearmongering is not isolated, but is part of what appears to be a wider smear campaign aimed at Canadian Muslims and their institutions. It’s made all the more worthwhile by its potential negative impact on one of the Conservative Party’s main competitors.

In fact, this latest episode represents what academics Ross Perigoe and Mahmoud Eid term « white elite racism directed toward Muslims » by elements within the media.

In their book, Mission Invisible: Race, Religion and News at the Dawn of the 9/11 Era, the authors chronicle how various media outlets have been complicit in misrepresenting Canadian Muslims and Islam in recent years.

In this case, Sun News did not contact anyone at the mosque, or do any further investigations.

Instead, to condemn the entire institution and its current congregants in the court of public opinion, Sun News relied on a dated U.S. government memo about a suspect individual who attended the mosque in the 1990s.

Had Sun News done its basic job as a news organization, it would have learned that this mosque has not only been visited by Trudeau, but by several other politicians and prominent officials, including former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe and the United States consul general.

They would have also discovered that the mosque frequently hosts interfaith events and activities for women, and is open to people of various religious viewpoints and practices.

Unfortunately, peddling this sort of anti-Muslim muck is acceptable because it fits with the portrayal of Muslims as « ‘cultural terrorists’ with pre-modern values that threaten the heart of enlightened Western values, norms, and society, » according to Jasmine Zine, associate professor of sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Writing in the collection of essays Islam in the Hinterlands: Muslim Cultural Politics in Canada, Zine points to government policies and statements around citizenship and immigration that situate Muslims as the « other. » This latest non-story falls neatly into this deceitful trope and represents political theatre at the expense of minority communities.

After all, it was Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney who led the charge in describing Trudeau’s visit to the Assuna-Annabawiya mosque in Park Ex as « pandering for votes among religious extremists in our own communities. »

Blaney should be reminded that his own government included a member of the controversial Jewish Defense League (JDL) of Canada as part of its official delegation to Israel earlier this year. The American JDL was officially « deemed a right-wing terrorist group » by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2001. France is currently considering banning its national JDL branch.

Disturbingly, the Conservative Party seems willing to align with yellow journalism to scapegoat certain minority communities to gain support no matter how incomplete or inaccurate the allegations. It went so far as to circulate a memo citing Trudeau’s visit to the Montreal mosque to supporters it was soliciting for donations.

It should go without saying that national security is not a matter for political theatre. If violent extremism is being initiated or promoted within a place of worship, then swift law enforcement action is warranted. But Canadian Muslims, or others, should not be used as bogeymen by our political leaders. Such acts reinforce stereotypes and create mistrust, societal divisions and disenfranchisement.

Ihsaan Gardee is Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).