Islamophobic outburst at Peel District School Board meeting signifies a deeper problem
I grew up in a part of Toronto where being white meant you were part of an ethnic minority. From the first day of kindergarten until I moved away in grade 11, my peer group was wonderfully diverse. Attending schools where religious and cultural differences were celebrated—not just accommodated—was a positive and eye-opening experience. Every group was recognized and respected for their beliefs, which created a comfortable and constructive environment.
So, when I heard people were literally ripping up religious texts at a school board meeting in Ontario in protest of religious tolerance, I was scratching my head in confusion. The Peel District School Board (PDSB) meeting on March 22 was attended by 80 individuals who were afraid of the board’s decision to allow Muslim students to write their own sermons for their Friday prayers.
To put this outburst into context, the PDSB has allowed Muslim students to pray every Friday in school spaces for 20 years, according to CBC News. The prayers are monitored by a Muslim teacher and, until the recent change allowing students to prepare their own materials, students used six pre-written sermons.
The intensity of the resistance to students preparing their own sermons is shocking. A petition calling for the end of religious accommodation in schools in the Peel region has received approximately 6,135 signatures so far, according to the petition’s website. Started by a group called Religion out of Public Schools, the petition states religious accommodation will lead to “unintentional intolerance” and “unsolicited exposure to religion.” It is an odd choice to be intentionally intolerant in an attempt to avoid the risk of “unintentional intolerance.” What’s even stranger is to argue that being exposed to another religion can have negative effects.
Respecting diversity and allowing different cultural practices to take place around you should never be seen as negative. Inclusion creates a holistic environment—ignorance creates hostility towards misunderstood groups. The hate broiling in the Peel region is a result of not blissful ignorance, but of fearful ignorance.
According to Global News, a 2016 poll found 54 per cent of Canadians viewed Islam “unfavourably.” Watching this hate gain support makes it impossible to overlook the ignorance present in the public’s view of the Islamic faith. Some of the Islamophobic comments made during the school board meeting were about Shariah law and the “Islamic indoctrination of children,” according to CBC News. None of these arguments are rational, and are only defendable when there is a significant lack of awareness about another group.
The group Religion out of Public Schools argues religious accommodation is too expensive for schools to incorporate. What isn’t clear to me is whether they consider derailing board meetings and necessitating police intervention not to be costly to the school board. Also, the group seems to forget that religious accommodation has been taking place in Peel district schools for over 15 years.
The best way to move forward from these sentiments is to address the underlying issue. It’s a big challenge to get someone to change their opinion, but it is easy to create an environment in which people can no longer hold irrational views.