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Islamophobia and public controversies involving Muslims

A growing population and public presence of Muslims in Canada coupled with world events influenced a significant (and proven) rise in Islamophobia. In the 2000s, in the wake of this heightened climate of fear and prejudice, scholars also focused their attention on the impacts of 9/11 for Muslim Canadians. This research has been especially attentive to women’s experiences, related to the meanings of religious signs and interpretations of Muslim family law, including the meanings of the hijab and “de-veiling”, and marriage (including the mahr, forced marriage, polygamy, and divorce). Following the murders of Aqsa Parvez in 2007 and women in the Shafia family in 2009, scholars critiqued characterisations of ‘honour killing’ in the media and in the Canadian courts. Parvez was found strangled in her family home and the Shafia sisters were found in a car submerged in a water canal. In both cases, immediate family members were charged with the murders. A recurring “imperiled Muslim woman” narrative has similarly inspired a counter-scholarship-discourse that examines Muslim female activists and scholars who have written specifically about rights (Saris and Seedat) and “empowerment” (Bullock, Marcotte) among Canadian Muslim women.

Muslim Canadian women have received the greatest amount of scholarly and legislative attention, but it is clear that a growing climate of securitisation has tremendous impact for Muslim men. The case of Canadian Omar Khadr (born 1986), held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for ten years, has received a great deal of attention, particularly around a government settlement he received in response to his torture. The largest anti-terror bust to date took place in 2006 (bolstered by legislation introduced post-9-11). The young men who were arrested became known as the “Toronto 18”. Other studies show the counter-point to common pejorative depictions of young Muslim men, like Bullock and Nesbitt-Larking (2013) who find that in spite of the racism and misconceptions about youth in Islam in the media and general public discourse, the 20 Canadian Muslim youth they interviewed showed a strong commitment to Canada and are highly engaged in Ontarian political processes. In their study of 90 Muslim Canadians in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and Montreal, Québec, Selby, Barras and Beaman (2018) show the multiple ways that their interlocutors navigate and negotiate in their everyday lives. This approach of focusing on the everyday experiences of Muslims is less common; scholars on Islam in Canada have focused on divisive public debates or court decisions.

Other public controversies followed 9/11, namely so-called Sharia Courts in Ontario and a 2007 unanimously-voted town charter against so-called barbaric cultural practices in Hérouxville, Quebec. These cases – the “Sharia Debate” and the “Reasonable Accommodation” commission that followed the Hérouxville controversy – spurred commission, reports, and produced formal policy recommendations in Canada. Various governments in the province of Québec have sought to sanction religious signs, including the 2010-proposed Bill 94 restricting full-face veils and the 2013-proposed ‘Charter of Secularism’. In June 2019, Québec’s Coalition Avenir Québec centre-right party passed a bill that restricts conspicuous religious signs among public servants in positions of authority and disallows the administration or usage of government services for those who cover their faces (i.e. women who wear niqab). Lastly, two Supreme Court of Canada decisions on the niqab have further shaped perceptions of Muslims in Canada: the precedent-setting 2012 N.S. Supreme Court decision regarding a woman’s desire to wear her niqab when testifying in a sexual assault trial and the 2015 case of Zunera Ishaq, who won the right to wear her niqab at a citizenship swearing-in ceremony (for more information, see ‘2018’ under ‘Archives’).

Recent years have seen a rise in individualised and institutional anti-Muslim racism. A number of studies from Canadian Islamic community organizations have also demonstrated significant post-9/11 Islamophobia. Scholars have argued this point for decades (Karim 2003; 2009; Zehiri 2009; Wong 2011; Zine 2012; Antonius 2013). In this vein, Statistics Canada found that hate crimes against Muslims more than doubled from 2012 to 2014 (Paperny 2016). The massacre of six Muslim worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City on January 29, 2017 sent shock waves through the country. In response to this climate, Liberal MP Iqra Khalid introduced a non-binding parliamentary motion, Motion 103, which called for the condemnation of Islamophobia. While the motion passed in March 2017, parliamentary and public debates proved vociferous.

Sources:
Material for this post are drawn from Chapter Two of Beyond Accommodation:
- Everyday Narratives of Muslim Canadians (Selby, Barras and Beaman 2018).
- On Islamophobia see Wilkins‐Laflamme, S. 2018. “Islamophobia in Canada: Measuring the Realities of Negative Attitudes Toward Muslims and Religious Discrimination”. Canadian Review of Sociology 55: 86-110.
- See also the Full list of references (pdf document).

D 23 March 2021    AJennifer A. Selby

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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