Ignoring Islamophobia doesn’t make it go away

When an ostrich realizes they’re in danger and they can’t run away, they fall to the ground and remain still while laying their head and neck flat on the ground. That way, they can blend in with the colour of the soil and avoid their threat. This is often referred to as the “ostrich approach,” which Collins Dictionary defines as “a person who refuses to face reality or recognize the truth.”

Recently, we saw the Quebec premier, François Legault, doing exactly that. Near the end of January, he ruled out the idea of dedicating a day to anti-Islamophobia, saying, “I don’t think there is Islamophobia in Quebec, so I don’t see why there would be a day devoted to Islamophobia,” according to the Montreal Gazette. The National Council of Canadian Muslims’s (NCCM) Executive Director, Ihsaan Gardee, told Global News, “[…] taking the ostrich approach and putting your head in the sand is not going to solve a problem or make it go away.”

We at The Concordian wholeheartedly agree with the NCCM’s executive director’s statement. Islamophobia is a real and ongoing problem in Quebec. Denying its existence and prevalence is not only wrong, it’s promoting a lie. The Premier later “clarified” his statement by saying that “Islamophobia exists in Quebec […] but not a current of Islamophobia. Quebec is not Islamophobic or racist,” according to the Montreal Gazette.

A spokesperson for Legault later clarified, “there is no trend or culture of Islamophobia in Quebec. Quebecers are open and tolerant and they shall continue to exhibit these qualities.” How does it, in any way, make sense to say that Islamophobia does exist in Quebec, while simultaneously saying there is no “current” or “trend?” Does the government not analyze statistics or facts and figures? Do they not speak to the Muslim community in Quebec, who experience such acts firsthand? Do they not remember the root cause of the Jan. 29 2017 mosque shooting?

In 2018, a year after the Jan. 29 attack, the NCCM had created a proposal to devote the day to anti-Islamophobia. The CAQ spokesperson at the time said the anniversary should instead be dedicated to commemorating the victims’ memories, according to CBC. The Parti Québécois also rejected the proposal by saying the term Islamophobia is “too controversial” and there is already an international day that promotes eliminating racial discrimination, according to the same source.

We at The Concordian find it exhaustingly sad that the NCCM has been rejected twice in trying to promote anti-Islamophobia in Quebec. If the government was truly supportive of its Muslim community, it would have no trouble dedicating one day of the entire year to lend its voice to uplift Muslims and their struggles. The truth is, Quebec has always had a problem with Islam, from the 2013 Quebec Charter of Values that aimed to ban religious symbols and attire in the public sector (like the hijab), to white nationalist groups against Islam like PEGIDA that flourish in the province. And, just recently, Quebec’s Minister for the Status of Women, Isabelle Charest, said the hijab is oppressive. She said, “When a religion dictates clothing […] this is not freedom of choice […] it’s a sign of oppression,” according to the Montreal Gazette. Isn’t the government dictating what a woman can and cannot wear just as oppressive, if not more?

Anti-Muslim sentiments are higher in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, according to a 2018 study published in the Canadian Review of Sociology. CBC reported that the study found that Muslims are the least liked social group amongst Canadians. The study asked Canadians to assign certain groups a score from zero to 100 that demonstrated how much they approved of them and Muslims in Quebec received the lowest score of 56. The study also found that 70 per cent of respondents in Quebec expressed “significant” anti-Muslim sentiment and 57 per cent of Quebec respondents had more negative attitudes towards Muslims than other racial minorities.

The truth is, we can fill up an entire page in this week’s issue of The Concordian with facts and figures demonstrating just how prevalent Islamophobia is in Quebec. Perhaps government officials are putting too much emphasis on the “phobia” part of Islamophobia, when it encompasses more than just a fear of Muslims and Islam. Perhaps they believe Islamophobia only manifests itself in violent attacks, like the Jan. 29 shooting. But we at The Concordian believe Quebec officials, and citizens, need to understand that Islamophobia exists in more ways than just attacks and fear. It is disliking an entire group for what they believe in. It is scoffing at their struggles rather than acknowledging them. It is questioning whether or not they deserve basic human rights. Islamophobia is real and, using the Premier’s words, is a “trend” in our province. Let’s fight against it—but first, let’s acknowledge it instead of taking the ostrich approach.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

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