Failing to challenge extremism in convoy movement emboldens hate

Published in Edmonton Journal on February 17, 2022

By Steven Zhou

When a member of the Wolves of Odin intimidated worshippers at the Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton, with the term “Kaffir” or “Infidel” written on his tuque, many were appalled.

Yet many miss how Islamophobic movements have continued to grow right here in this beautiful province — as they have across Canada.

There’s been wide coverage of the guns and ammunition seized Monday night among the anti-mandate blockade in Coutts. Thirteen were arrested, nine are out on bail. All were charged with everything from uttering threats to weapons possession, and four with conspiracy to murder.

As a journalist, my job is to keep wondering what’s motivating its slew of extreme elements. So I kept looking for signs.

One photo shows guns, cartridges, magazines, bags, and vests strewn across a table and the floor by the RCMP. Whoever drove this stuff to Coutts was ready for a fight.

One thing caught my eye, thanks to a zoomed-in photo a friend sent me of a tactical vest on the table with a peculiar patch stitched to its right breast. It had a familiar term written across it: “Infidel”/”Kaffir.” This one term says volumes about where some blockaders are coming from.

Google “Infidel patch” and you’ll find it widely available in stores selling tactical gear. Dig a little deeper and you’ll see that service members in the U.S. military often tattooed the term on their bodies as they headed into Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. The point was to kill the terrorists and their supporters. Since al-Qaida types refer to their enemies as “infidels,” many soldiers decided to claim the term, which became a mainstay in the U.S. military’s “crusader subculture.”

“It really started when things got heavy in the 2000s in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Islamophobia was rampant in the U.S. military,” said Chris Rodda, the director of research at the Washington, D.C.-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has helped expose and resolve dozens of anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S. military. She noted in a phone call with me how courses were even taught about soldiers needing to wage “total war” on Muslims.

Well, total war on Muslims is the goal of Islamophobic militias like the now banned Three Percenters who trained in northern Alberta. Their flag was spotted among the anti-mandate convoy in Ottawa, a movement run at least in part by activists with a history of anti-Muslim involvement.

High-profile supporters of the convoy like Premier Jason Kenney urge observers to not miss the forest for a few trees. He said the same thing in support of the 2019 United We Roll convoy that featured white nationalist Faith Goldy as a speaker. Even Rachel Notley, premier at time, threw her weight behind the UWR convoy’s message, as long as organizers “guarded against extremism.”

Leaders do a lot of damage to marginalized communities when they refuse to challenge far-right movements at their inception. This refusal empowers white supremacists like Pat King, a popular convoy organizer. Speaking of King, you can draw a straight line between his wacked-out statements about diluted “Anglo-Saxon bloodlines” and the post-9/11 Islamophobia that accompanied U.S. soldiers into Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not everyone involved in the convoys are King-level white supremacists, yet the movement is led by figures who’ve made careers out of xenophobia. It’s no wonder proud “Infidels” feel comfortable existing in their midst.

Failure by leaders to challenge white supremacist or Islamophobic elements in any movement only emboldens hateful actors to organize and grow. This is the tough but obvious conclusion that our leaders, divided along partisan lines, refuse to admit.

Meanwhile, in Canada, a mosque is shot up in Quebec City. A Muslim caretaker has his throat slit in Toronto. A Muslim family is run over by a truck in London.

We watched it all happen, but we can’t admit the obvious.