What Canada needs now: a strategy against hate

The federal government should immediately partner with Canadian Muslim communities to fashion an effective strategy to combat extremist narratives.


The Hill Times | November 23, 2015

A radio show host in Saskatoon tweets out an anti-Muslim message and is immediately taken to task by his own wife. He later deletes the tweet, but not before it was seen by many.

He is not the only one to express views that would be considered racist were they targeting any other group. Some people have even acted out on these views: firebombing a mosque, smashing windows at a temple, assaulting a woman, and verbally harassing others.

Anti-Muslim sentiment is out there, and given global events, may only increase. And it’s exactly what the terrorists want.

University of Ottawa Professor Noomane Raboudi pointed out this past week that ISIS has made it clear that one of their aims is to drive a hateful wedge between Muslim communities and the societies in which they live. This, he said, would help make it easier to recruit Western Muslims who would increasingly find themselves marginalized and discriminated against as hatred grew.

We must not fall into this trap.

Canada, though far from perfect, has succeeded in nurturing diverse, welcoming spaces for people of all faiths and backgrounds for decades. This was not by accident; the 1971 policy on multiculturalism set the stage for a concerted and deliberate effort to ensure that Canadians of all backgrounds would work collectively to positively contribute to the country’s success.

The passage of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would entrench the rights of all citizens to equal and fair treatment. These principles have informed both national and provincial human rights policies and allowed our society to thoughtfully balance competing rights.

To a European Muslim, this sounds like “Disneyland,” as I was once told at an international conference in Poland.

Yet the events of the past few days, both the terrorist attacks and the apparent backlash, must reinforce our commitment to ensuring Canada remains one of the happiest places on earth—for everyone. Our history shows that we have to work for the country we want.

How should we do this?

First, the federal government should immediately partner with Canadian Muslim communities to fashion an effective strategy to combat extremist narratives. This new brand of terror promotion is a contemporary phenomenon that few know how to tackle. The previous government did provide limited funding for an initiative called Extreme Dialogue which highlights the experiences of a mother of a young Canadian who was killed fighting overseas for extremist groups and the experiences of a former white supremacist. There was also some funding provided to explore community resilience through workshops and public fora. We need more of this, implemented strategically across the country.

Second, community stakeholders must come together to find new ways to teach about acceptance and to promote multiculturalism. Again, leadership is key: for example, provincial ministries of education must ensure that teachers are using the resources that national organizations like MediaSmarts and others provide to ensure curricula are taught through a lens that allows young people to identify stereotypes and to challenge popular misconceptions. We need to create safe spaces for our increasingly global classrooms.

Third, police services must bolster hate crimes units and their responses. Victims are often reluctant to report and it’s important to provide both adequate resources and support. Perpetrators must also be swiftly brought to justice.

Fourth, Islamophobia must be considered as offensive and as socially unacceptable as any other hatemongering out there, whether anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia or sexism. This means that even in political discourse, there must be a responsibility to ensure that questions about refugees, for example, are not giving people license to air anti-Muslim sentiments and fuel suspicions about people fleeing the very same type of terror we witnessed in Paris.

Fifth, it’s time to take the Islam, out of ISIS. Most of the world calls this terrorist movement Daesh and ISIS has been widely condemned by Muslim scholars and institutions worldwide. Muslims and Islam should not be synonymous with a group of barbaric criminals. It hurts our communities, it hurts our children, and it only bolsters their false claims. Even law enforcement agencies agree that language has the power to cast suspicion over entire communities, and provide a veneer of credibility to the terrorists’ claims.

Finally, Canadians must choose “love over fear,” to echo the touching sentiments expressed in a Montreal metro earlier last week by three young men who posted a video of their solidarity. Holding each other’s hands, a Muslim originally from Egypt, his friends from Paris and New York, did what many Canadians must do now—defeat the extremist narrative by coming even closer together.

Amira Elghawaby is the communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).