On October 2nd, following an attack on a Muslim woman, the Quebec National Assembly passed a motion condemning Islamophobia. As expected, it elicted strong reactions; some welcoming, and others condemning it.
While Muslim Quebeckers are supposed to applaud the gesture, it has in fact only strengthened the fears of many. Because, in the very act of officially recognizing the existence of the phenomenon of Islamophobia, our MPs have drained the concept of any real significance.
In fact, the content of the motion and some statements to media following its adoption make clear that our politicians unfortunately still do not understand that, before its expression as criminal acts (which of course we must condemn), Islamophobia is first and foremost an ideology.
The function of this ideology is to justify Islamophobic acts; in this way, it is literally a root of evil. Without it, these acts would be condemned for what they are: racist and despicable crimes. And it would not be enough to merely condemn them, but necessary to fight them through concrete action; similarly to how the problem of radicalisation has been approached.
This, however, is far from our current situation, in large part because the Islamophobic ideology seems to be bread and butter for some media outlets in Quebec and lives even within institutions of the Quebec state. This becomes clear to any objective observer who cares to analyse the main strategies through which this ideology advances: negation, banalization, and instrumentalization of Islamophobia.
The first strategy is pure negation: a straightforward claim, regardless of hard facts, that Islamophobia simply doesn’t exist. The idea is the diabolical invention of a few Muslim monsters, intellectuals and activists suspected of serving an “Islamist Internationale” which aims to destroy our way of life, our State, and our society.
Cornered by the sad reality they attempt to deny, the ideologues of ambient Islamophobia fall back on a second line of offense: banalizing Islamophobic crime. Here they do acknowledge, at least by lip-service, the ugly actions striking Muslim institutions and people, especially when these acts are reported in the mass media. But they attenuate the danger by banalizing the reality. The phenomenon couldn’t be more marginal, they maintain; it shouldn’t be the subject of any special attention, nor of any serious action on the part of public officials. To sell the public and decision-makers on this irresponsible banalization, they shamelessly make a competition of victims, measuring up Islamophobia against other forms of discrimination. As though we can’t right the wrongs of Islamophobia without harming other legitimate struggles against racism and injustice.
The third strategy of the Islamophobic ideology, as paradoxical as this might initially seem, is to instrumentalize the reality of Islamophobia in order to feed … Islamophobia! The rise of Islamophobic acts over the past years, as documented by numerous academic studies, is explained as an understandable, even legitimate, reaction of honest citizens angered by the “unreasonable” discourse and “barbarian” practices of Muslims. Recently, this relationship was manifested in the link, all too-readily established, between Islamophobia and real or alleged radicalisation of young Muslims in Quebec. This ideological correlation allows notorious Islamophobes, even while appearing to condemn Islamophobia, to hold victims responsible for the discrimination and crimes they face.
What does all of this have to do with the motion adopted by our MPs? The motion certainly did recognize the existence of a certain kind of Islamophobia, namely the crass kind of overt Islamophobia essentially expressed in social media. Here we can certainly thank Françoise David and Québec solidaire for the important contributions they made to future discussion of this issue.
However, despite this relative merit, the motion loses any real significance by ignoring the actual places where the Islamophobic ideology today thrives in impunity. These places are well-known. There are, first of all, some of the main media outlets in Quebec, which distill a more sophisticated – and thus more dangerous – Islamophobic discourse. There is also the political arena where, each time an opportunity presents itself, leading politicians and political parties do not hesitate to exploit Islamophobia for their narrow political objectives.
By overlooking these spaces and these actors, and given the issues that Islamophobia raises for the future of Quebec and Muslim Quebeckers, the 2 October motion falls far short of the mark; it targets only the most crude manifestations of the phenomenon and ignores its real causes.
What we need is real political will to take the fight against the scourge of Islamophobia seriously. This should be expressed in the form of a government plan to provide a framework for this fight and integrate it into our government’s priorties. This action plan needs to be accompanied by the financial and human resources necessary to study the phenomenon and confront the ideological and partisan polemics that currently prevent the State from dealing with it. Also, and most importantly, the plan must include a Quebec-wide awareness campaign aimed at state officials, the main state institutions, and, more broadly, Quebec civil society. Finally, this government plan that we would hope for should include a structure of support for victims of Islamophobia; women and men who are marginalized, attacked, and discriminated against simply because of their – real or presumed – allegiance to a community of faith and a religion.
Adil Charkaoui, Coordinator, Quebec Collective against Islamophobia
Aziz Djaout, researcher in counter/de-radicalisation, University of Montréal
(This is an extended version of the initial text published at Montreal Gazette)