Jewish & Christian M-103 witnesses warn: condemning ‘Islamophobia’ rather than anti-Muslim bigotry endangers their communitiesNovember 17, 2017
Two days ago I quoted the concerns felt by seven passionate Muslim reformers, regarding the dangers that they would face, if Parliament were to explicitly condemn ‘Islamophobia’—rather than ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’, which of course they all abhor. Today I want to list some of the concerns that Jewish and Christian witnesses expressed, as to how an all-of-government approach to quelling ‘Islamophobia’ rather than anti-Muslim bigotry, discrimination and violence could have the effect of harming their communities.
Both the Jewish and the Christian witnesses emphasized their deep commitment to religious pluralism, and their desire to see Muslim Canadians openly embraced by Canadian society. Like almost all people who are deeply attached to their faith, they feel a strong kinship with people who are attached to other faith traditions.
But they worry that even if we try to find a formal definition for the terms ‘Islamophobia’, we won’t be able to control its connotations. They fear that their co-religionists will be branded as Islamophobes for questioning any practice that masquerades as being an Islamic practice—a problem made worse by the fact that in some interpretations, ‘Islamophobia’ can include condemnation of practices which fall under the rubric of ‘Islamic culture’ (and which therefore need not actually have their basis in the Qur’an or in Hadith or Sunnah).
Under this kind of broad interpretation—which is the one being used in a number of European jurisdictions where Islamophobia has been made unlawful (in preference to banning anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination)—it can be against the law to say that antisemitism is widespread in the Muslim community. Thus, legitimate fears of one class of hate crime can be hidden behind accusations of another class of hate crime. In this regard, see the recent prosecution of Georges Bensoussan, in France, on charges of Islamophobia.
Even more worrying are the ways in which the terms ‘Islamophobia’, stretched far beyond what any reasonable Canadian would want, could be used abroad. Witnesses drew to the Heritage Committee’s attention the way in which this term could be used to crush religious minority populations.
Here is what the witnesses told us. As in my previous posts, I have placed their testimony in chronological order, and have applied time-stamps when possible.
Peter Bhatti (Sept. 27):
(Note: Peter Bhatti’s brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, was Pakistan’s first Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs. In 2011, he was assassinated by a death squad by a group claiming he was a blasphemer of Mohammed)
(15:45) “Our main concern lies within the definition of the term ‘Islamophobia’, which is an unclear and confusing term. We all believe that the discrimination and prejudice against any individual based on their Muslim faith is intolerable and unacceptable. However, the ill-defined precept of Islamophobia can also be used to take away the fundamental freedoms of all Canadians to forcefully and respectfully criticize any Islamic religious idea. The potential result that the motion imposes is the cause of growing anxiety within my communities and communities across Canada.
“The fears of Pakistani Christian immigrants living in Canada are not imaginary. The consequences of being labelled under M-103 under the garb of Islamophobia can have an indirect effect on our relatives and friends who are still living in Pakistan, a country in which blasphemy laws hold a sentence of life in prison, or death.”
Sherif Emil (Oct. 16):
(Note: Sherif Emil, a McGill University professor, immigrated to Canada from Egypt, where he was a member of the Coptic Christian community.)
(15:35) “Muslim Canadians bring a welcome diversity to our society. I work with dozens of them every day. Their contributions make our society better, but concern about Islam as it is practiced in much of the world today is not irrational.”
(16:20) ” ‘Islamophobia’ is a word used around the world. It’s used specifically in Islamic societies to persecute others, so when we decide to join in this witch hunt of what we call ‘Islamophobia’ and how we’re going to punish people who engage in it, we’ve just joined a very unfortunate club of nations.”
“[Use of the term] Islamophobia is a slippery slope. It often starts focused and then has its own life, as has happened in one nation after another where people have been persecuted and imprisoned first under a narrow definition, and then the definition widens.”
(Note: David Matas testified before the committee on Oct. 18. However, the following statements are taken from his written testimony to the committee, and therefore include page references rather than time stamps.)
David Matas (Written submission to the committee):
(pp. 5-6) “The purpose of terrorism is terror. Terrorist Islamic groups have as their purpose inducing fear. Many of them are listed under Canadian legislation as terrorist entities…. To suggest that we should be combating fear of these groups, that … fear of these groups amounts to racism is wrong-headed…. Islamic-based terrorist organizations should not be able to hide behind claims of Islamophobia to shield themselves from criticism of their incitement to terror and hatred.”
(p. 10) “The combat against Islamophobia must not facilitate antisemitism by giving shelter to antisemitism within the Islamic community acting out Islamic extremist ideology.”
(p. 10) “The worst and the first victims of Islamic extremists are innocent Muslims. Innocent Muslims are victimized twice. First they are victimized by radicals in their own Islamic community. Then they are victimized by the broader community, being blamed for the misdeeds of Islamic radicals. Helping the innocents in the Islamic community means combatting both threats, not just the second.”
Michael Mostyn (Oct. 18):
(15:40) “The committee’s work and its outcome must exercise great care in any definition of Islamophobia, if indeed any is attempted. Any definition that is vague and imprecise, that is embraced by one community but not by all, or that catalyze emotion or irrational debate on scope and meaning can be hijacked and only inflame tensions between and among faith communities in Canada and detract from the committee’s objective.”
“While most anti-Semitic hate crimes in the 1980s and 1990s were attributable to elements of the far right, we have sadly witnessed an increasing number of anti-Jewish incidents from within the Muslim community, sometimes by those claiming to act or speak in the name of Islam. We know that this trend is of concern to many leaders in the Muslim community, just as it is within the Jewish community.”
“Thus, we strongly endorse the importance for your work on M-103 to be broad-based. An unbalanced emphasis on Islamophobia creates the impression that Canadian Muslims are the only victims of hate crimes.”
“[W]e must ensure that no one can hide behind the idea that any criticism of Islam represents Islamophobia, or a vague definition to this effect.”
Shimon Fogel (Oct. 18):
(15:50) “The term ‘Islamophobia’ has been defined in multiple ways, some effective and some problematic. Unfortunately, it has become a lightning rod for controversy, distracting from other important issues at hand. While some use the term ‘Islamophobia’ to concisely describe prejudice against Muslims, others have expanded it significantly further to include opposition to political ideologies. For example, this October’s Islamic Heritage Month guidebook issued by the Toronto District School Board contained a definition of Islamophobia that included, ‘dislike … towards Islamic politics or culture’.”
“This incident exposes significant problems associated with relying on ad hoc, inadequate definitions of Islamophobia. Muslims can be protected from hate without restricting critique of ideologies, especially those that are explicitly anti-Semitic.”
Ali Rizvi (Nov. 6):
(Note: The testimony below refers not to Jews or Christians, but rather to the peaceful Ahmadiyya Muslim population, which faces persecution overseas because the brand of Islam that it practices is seen as heretical and therefore as ‘Islamophobic.’)
(17:15) “The Ahmadiyya is also a community that’s frequently labelled as non-Muslim or as blasphemer or as heretics. We know from the violence in South Asia—mainly in Pakistan—against them, they are definitely a targeted community.
“There are many mainstream Muslims that think that they [the Ahmadiyya] should be put to death. This is, again, one of the problems with the terms ‘Islamophobia—when you talk about criticism of Islam and you don’t differentiate it from anti-Muslim hate, then you’re going into territory that’s very difficult to navigate.”
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