On June 6, 2021, four members of the Afzal family were murdered on their evening stroll in the quiet town of London, Ont.
On June 23, 2021, two visibly Muslim women were attacked while on a walk in Edmonton. One of them had a knife put to her throat and her life threatened, while the other one was beaten unconscious.
These attacks all took place in June 2021, and, unfortunately, this is not an exhaustive list of all the Islamophobic attacks for the month in Canada.
In Canada, acts of Islamophobia have been increasing steadily since the early 2000s. However, in the last few years, this trend seems to be on the rise.
Canada is a country of multiculturalism that promotes the idea of a “cultural mosaic,” in stark contrast to “melting-pot” nations, who expect their immigrants to assimilate into the country’s “values,” or societal norms. Canada is a country known for displaying – and progressively building upon – its liberal values.
So, it begs the question, why are Muslim communities trapped in the blind spot of Canada’s “liberal vision”? Why are Muslims constantly being targeted in this so-called environment of inclusivity?
Although this is a complex question that needs to be examined from a variety of vantage points, I believe a large portion of the answer lies in Canada’s foreign policy.
Recently, Canada’s foreign policy has taken, generally speaking, the same approach toward the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as the U.S. There have been some differences in action (especially with Canada’s stance on the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq), however the attitudes toward the region have been similar. This foreign policy position has caused collateral destabilization and destruction through attempts at democratization and the instilling of global “liberal” ideals.
Since 2000, Canada’s military has been engaged in several wars within Muslim-majority countries. These include operations in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.
The Canadian involvement has been, overwhelmingly, attempting to abolish terrorist groups in these countries, but these military operations have inevitably created a distinction between Canadians and Muslim-Canadians. The public perception of Muslims has been one of blameworthy homogeneity and it has contributed to the decay of the Muslim-Canadian identity.
The herding of Muslims into one monolithic “category” is problematic for the social understanding of the Muslim community, but even more problematic because there emerges an artificial link between terrorism and Islam. This has alienated Muslims, and, more specifically, orthodox Muslims in Canada.
The overarching idea perpetuated by these military missions is an “othering” of Muslims into a category of individuals who don’t align with “Canadian values.” This idea has been adopted and amplified by right-wing terrorist groups in Canada.
There exists a tension between Canadian conservatism and Muslim orthodoxy, which seems to be an anomaly because there is a general values agreement between conservative Canadians and religious orthodoxy in general.
There is a common understanding among Canadians that moderate Muslims are friends, while those who support political Islamic ideals are problematic. This demonization of orthodox Islam has fuelled the hate that we see being directed at Canadian Muslims across the country. The dress code of orthodox Islam also forces us to examine Islamophobia from a gendered lens more seriously. Women who wear hijab, abaya, burqa or niqab are more likely to be targeted by white terrorism than men. This forces Muslim women to choose between safety and religious freedom in Canada.
A crucial piece of Canadian foreign policy that has drastically affected the way Muslims are viewed has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Canadian Muslims who are actively involved in the resistance against the occupation and active killing of Palestinians are also engaged in a resistance against the rhetoric of Islamophobia.
This rhetoric is fuelled by an active decision by Canada to stand alongside the atrocities of Israel through a feeble claim of the right to defence. When the Israeli government indiscriminately attacks Gaza and kills civilians, the Muslim-Canadian response is a plea for morally equitable policy.
Since 2000, 8,166 people have died in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Seven-thousand and sixty-five of these people have been Palestinian, while 1,101 have been Israeli. Hamas’s attacks on Israeli citizens have been met appropriately, with a global response of anti-terrorism policy, including the inclusion of Hamas on terror lists across the world.
Israel, however, has killed more civilians, including women and children, than Hamas, yet we have not seen any attempt by the Canadian government to respond equally as drastically as they have to Hamas. In Israel’s most recent series of attacks on Gaza, at least 248 civilians were killed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response has been to note that “Israel has a right to assure its own security” and a refusal to explicitly denounce the attacks against the Gazan people.
The expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is also overlooked, and most of the time jumbled in with the Canadian position on Hamas’s atrocious acts against Israeli civilians.
This has an effect that is felt by Muslim-Canadians across the country. Conflict in Muslim-majority countries has become second nature and is now a part of Muslim identity. Canadian foreign policy has made Muslim-Canadians feel as if their lives are not equal to the lives of others, while perpetuating the false connection between Islam and terrorism.
Canadian foreign policy needs to begin incorporating, or at least considering, moral objectivity. Canada’s national interest should not be playing a role in the conversation of human rights. The undertaking of global human rights should not be soiled with national intention. Human rights need to be prioritized, regardless of how that effects a country’s position on the international stage.
This lack of objective morality has associated violence, conflict, and terrorism with Islam. This shadow has perpetuated anti-Muslim rhetoric and has armed right-wing terrorist groups with the pomposity necessary to increase the frequency of their attacks on Canada’s Muslim community.
Canadian foreign policy has played an active role in “othering” Muslim-Canadians. This is not the mosaic we were promised.
Reda Zarrug is an associate editor at iAffairs Canada. He is currently pursuing his MA at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, where his main research interests are conflict analysis and conflict resolution, specifically surrounding the MENA region. Previously, he attended Carleton University and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He is also a public servant working in a strategy capacity with the Government of Canada.
Photo Credit: Canadian Armed Forces (Sgt. Frank Hudec)