The Hidden Face of Islamophobia

AQI’s Action Plan includes the following point: to act as “a Truth Squad to demystify inaccurate stories about Quebec and to answer insulting attacks, including the tired accusation that Quebecers are racist or xenophobic”. As such, we have translated Professor Nadia El-Mabrouk’s essay “Le Québec n’est ni raciste ni islamophobe,” published in Le Devoir on 8 June 2017. Prof El-Mabrouk has stated that the original title of her article was “La face cachée de l’islamophobie,” so we have translated it as such in order to respect the author’s wishes.

By Nadia El-Mabrouk – Professor, Université de Montréal

As a new Quebecer of Tunisian origin, I find it profoundly unjust that the Québec that has welcomed me with open arms should have become the target of accusations of racism and islamophobia. Integration into a new society is obviously a challenge for any immigrant, and the chances of successful integration are not the same for everyone. But to speak of islamophobia as an evil that is eating away at Québec is completely unjustified.

Islamophobia and racism have intruded so strongly into public discourse that they have even caused projects aimed at political convergence to abort. These terms have been used to deliver hammer blows to slander one’s opponents. For example, this is the main point of Michel Seymour’s letter published in Le Devoir attacking André Lamoureux’s analysis of the failure of convergence between the Parti québécois (PQ) and Québec solidaire (QS), not based on argumentation, but rather on the pretext that his affirmations were “islamophobic.”

Why so much importance?

Why has the word “islamophobia,” understood as meaning “hatred of Muslims,” taken on such importance? Hatred of Christians, atheists, or apostasy could just as easily be covered by appropriate terms and benefit from special protection. One only has to think of the atrocious assassinations of Coptic families in Egypt to see that hatred of Christians is a sad reality.

Are Muslims being particularly affected by hate crimes in Canada? According to 2013 data from Statistics Canada,* Jews are affected three times more than Muslims, with 181 crimes against Jews, 65 against Muslims and 29 against Catholics. Leaving aside the horrible attack on the mosque in Québec City, which is still raising numerous questions, the figures do not reveal an outbreak of violence toward Muslims. In fact, the surge of solidarity that was expressed immediately after this attack is wholly representative of the generous Québec that I know.

It is nevertheless obvious that the countless terrorist acts committed almost daily around the planet in the name of Islam incite hate speech, general aversion, and reactions of rejection toward Islam. The only way to stop this barbarity and to restore the tarnished image of Islam is to attack political Islam. This is what islamologist Noomane Raboudi explains in an article published in May, entitled “Taking a stand against Islamism can only serve the Muslims in Quebec and elsewhere” (S’engager contre l’islamisme ne peut que servir les musulmans au Québec et ailleurs.)

But instead of taking a stand against Islamism, the current political will is to contain any discourse critical of Islam or Islamism. There is no shortage of such initiatives. The motion against islamophobia adopted by the Québec National Assembly in 2015, motion 103 adopted in March 2017 aimed at containing islamophobia in Canada, draft bill 59 that had the appearance of a law against the offence of blasphemy, and, more recently, the creation in Québec of an advisory committee with a view to setting up a commission on systemic racism and discrimination. Education toward self-censorship is also present in the course Ethics and Religious Culture (Éthique et culture religieuse), in which teachers are called upon to make students aware of islamophobic discourse, but without ever warning them against the dangers of fundamentalist slippages of religions.

Blaming the citizenry

Making islamophobia the problem to fight has the effect of shifting blame onto the citizen, who will be judged guilty, by virtue of his or her words, of provoking radicalization. Thus, this concept is often used to justify censorship, and even to camouflage reprehensible acts and discourses.

One recalls the sociologist Valérie Amiraux who, acting as an expert witness in May 2016 in the case of two youths accused of having planned a terrorist attack in Montreal, recommended that part of the evidence be hidden from the public so as not to stir up more “islamophobia”!

With respect to censorship, cancellation in Québec City of the play Djihad by director Ismaël Saidi is particularly shocking. Considered in Europe as a unique pedagogical tool for raising awareness of radicalization, here it has been censored for fear of stigmatizing Islam. Is it only the Islamists who are authorized to speak about Islam in Québec?

Furthermore, it is distressing to note that the concepts of islamophobia and racism are being used for political ends to manipulate an electorate that is sensitive to talk of victimization. The episode at the QS conference, where certain influential members vehemently denounced the PQ’s secularism project, testifies to this. Yet, to affirm a secularism of fact and appearance is in continuity with steps taken by Québec, started during the Quiet Revolution, toward the complete neutrality of the State with respect to religions. The defence of freedom of conscience against all proselytism, especially at school, is an essential condition to putting a brake on the rise of religious fundamentalism and to favouring the integration of everyone.

Finally, the concept of islamophobia leads to confining Muslims to the position of victims, which only has the effect of slowing down the combat against Islamism and promoting radicalization. In addition, it provides a false vision of Québec and fails to contribute to a healthy debate among citizens. Québec is not divided between Muslims and non-Muslims, but rather between partisans of a communitarianism advocating a return to conservative patriarchal values and a unifying “we” (“nous”) of citizens of all origins, concerned with preserving the progressive values of equality, liberty, and secularism.

* This article was published in French on 8 June 2017. The author notes that the latest figures from Statistics Canada, published on 13 June 2017, confirm a rise in offences toward Muslims in 2015. However, following the trend of 2013, Jews remain most affected.