The fight against Islamophobia is a smoke screen

March 29, 2023

By Nadia El-Mabrouk* & François Dugué

Letter to Le Devoir, March 29, 2023

When the position of Canadian representative against Islamophobia was announced, many of us pointed out the abusive and militant use of this term, which confuses respect for people of Muslim conviction with absolute respect for the precepts of Islam.

The latest Angus Reid poll illustrates our point well by confirming this confusion. According to this poll, Quebecers have a more negative opinion of Islam than the Canadian average and are more in favor of Bill 21.

As we know, Quebec has a more negative view of all religions than the rest of Canada and a greater aspiration to secularism. This stems from its history and its attachment to a model of living together based on common civic values. However, the Angus Reid firm does not fail to conclude that Quebecers are more Islamophobic, in the sense of racist, than the rest of Canada. Does the fight against Islamophobia consist, in the name of a misguided anti-racism, in inculcating a positive vision of Islam? Should the same be done for all religions?

What the fight against Islamophobia hides

More concretely, we have just learned that the Review and Examination Division (RED) of the Canada Revenue Agency, which is responsible for ensuring that charities are not used to fund terrorism, is being investigated for allegations of Islamophobia. In particular, the complainants argue that 75% of the organizations whose charitable status has been revoked are Muslim. It will be up to the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency to decide after investigation, but it should be emphasized that such a statistical discrepancy does not in any way presume unfairness.

Among the organizations revoked, the media have already reported the case of the Islamic Centre of Ottawa for promoting hatred and intolerance, IRFAN-Canada for funding Hamas, and ISNA for funding Jamaat-e-Islami, both of which are listed as terrorist entities in Canada. A quick look at the list shows that the vast majority of the entities on the list are Islamist groups. Indeed, a document on Canada’s counter-terrorism strategy comes to the same conclusion: “Violent Islamic extremism is the number one threat to Canada’s national security.

In fact, suspending the work of the ERD was one of the recommendations of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) at the “2021 National Summit on Islamophobia” that led to the creation of the position of Canadian Representative on Islamophobia. Among its other recommendations, the NCCM calls on the government to halt its national strategy to combat violent extremism and radicalization, and to monitor national security agencies, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency. Why? The NCCM suspects them of racism, Islamophobia and even demands a study on “white supremacist penetration” within them.

Is this what the position of Canadian representative against Islamophobia will contribute to, to stop the surveillance of organizations likely to finance terrorism and to put under control the national security agencies under the pretext of racism? Do Canadians fully appreciate the implications of this?

Secularism as a weapon of mass demonisation

Following the Angus Reid poll, the media relayed outrageous comments about the supposedly rampant “Islamophobia” in Quebec, with the NCCM even going so far as to speak of a death threat to Muslims.

In this regard, Fatima Aboubakr gave an enlightening testimony on how Bill 21 was used, even if it meant exaggerating its scope, to demonize Quebec and advance Islamist objectives. Witnessing the radicalization of young people around her, Ms. Aboubakr helped found an Arab-Muslim association with a humanist and secular vocation to help these young people. However, this humanist vocation was quickly undermined by pressures prohibiting any remarks favorable to secularism. It also shows the state of dependence in which many immigrants find themselves when they are taken in by associations at odds with their host society.

This is not the first time that such an observation has been made. In 2016, in the context of the departure of a dozen young people from Cégep Maisonneuve to Syria, a report by the Centre de prévention de la radicalisation menant à la violence (TN Quebec government Center for preventing radicalization leading to violence)  mentioned a polarizing climate maintained by “agents of radicalization” who manipulated young people’s sense of victimization by exploiting the (then draft) Charter of Secularism. These agents of radicalization are said to have contributed considerably “to sowing hatred among young people, by insisting on the collective rejection of Muslims and Islam by Quebec society”.

The fight against Islamophobia is a smokescreen that allows unscrupulous or radicalized individuals to keep their fellow citizens in a state of communal confinement, isolating them from the rest of Quebec, not to mention religious NPOs that take advantage of the resulting impunity to serve as a transmission belt for the financing of international terrorism.

While the Canadian government must certainly fight against hate, it must not allow itself to be fooled by the deliberately confusing use of the term “Islamophobia” to the point of hindering the proper functioning of national security agencies. Its primary role is to ensure the security of its citizens while maintaining its credibility abroad.

Translation validated by Michel Virard

 * Nadia El-Mabrouk is currently the President of the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL), a coalition of not-for-profit organizations supporting secularism in Quebec. She is a teacher.

Michel Virard