COMMENTARY: Politicians of all levels and stripes refuse to display moral courage on Islamophobia
Earlier this month the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to declare Jan. 29 – which would mark the one-year anniversary of the Quebec City mosque massacre – a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.
This isn’t exactly surprising. The NCCM first proposed this back in February of last year, calling upon our lawmakers to turn the outpouring of public shows of sympathy into concrete action to ensure something like this would not happen again.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, politicians in Quebec have for the most part come out largely against the proposal. The two main opposition parties in Quebec, the Parti Québécois (PQ) and the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), have said that while they have no problem with a day to commemorate the anniversary, there is no need to recognize the mosque shooting as Islamophobic, despite the targeted nature of the shooting.
The only political party in Quebec to come out in favour of the proposal is Québec Solidaire, a party which holds a mere three seats in the National Assembly.
The CAQ has stated that while the party is not against an official memorial or commemoration, it objects to the use of the term Islamophobia because Quebeckers are not Islamophobic. “This is the intolerable act of a single person and not that of an entire society. Quebecers are open and welcoming. They are not Islamophobic.”
Public polling on the issue would beg to differ with that statement, but it is an election year in Quebec, and if polls are to be believed the CAQ is the party that is best placed to beat the governing Liberals. The Liberals know this, which could explain their refusal to commit to one side of the issue, stating instead that they are “analyzing” the situation.
The PQ, for its part, has stated that the term is inherently problematic as it is loaded with controversy, which is arguably true, but that is largely because politicians themselves willingly engage in ensuring the term is controversial by peddling misinformation, which is by no means unique to Quebec politicians.
It was only a short while ago that the federal Conservatives made political hay out of a non-binding parliamentary motion, M-103, that sought to condemn Islamophobia, in spite of the fact that they had voted in favour of a similar motion condemning Islamophobia mere months earlier.
WATCH BELOW: M-103 passes in the House of Commons
The Conservatives under Stephen Harper largely sought to make inroads with religious minorities, including Muslims. But that fell by the wayside during the last federal election and during the Conservative leadership race. Additionally, as noted by journalist Justin Ling for The Walrus, under Andrew Scheer the Conservative Party’s ties to far-right news site The Rebel are now indisputable.
However, perhaps the most unfortunate of all the political responses to the NCCM’s proposal is that of the federal Liberals. They have largely stayed silent and have yet to confirm whether or not Jan. 29 will be declared as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.
There is obviously still time for the Liberals to do the right thing here, but it is extremely disheartening to see the federal government not take a quicker stance.
Let’s just go over the facts at hand. Last year a man said to be inspired by alt-right rhetoric entered a Quebec City mosque and opened fire as congregants were praying. Six men lost their lives and a further 19 were injured. In the months after the shooting, the president of the mosque had his car deliberately set on fire. Last December, Quebec City police confirmed what many in the Muslim community had been feeling, noting that hate crimes targeting Muslims doubled in the last year.
Nobody is naïve enough to think that the establishment of a national day will solve the ugly undercurrent of Islamophobia that currently exists in Canada, and is particularly evident in Quebec. After all, it’s not as though taking part in an official day to combat racism has solved the scourge of systemic racism in this country, and no reasonable person thinks otherwise. It would, however, let a community that is still reeling from the hateful attack know that the politicians that represent them care enough to take a moral stand.