In the hours following the murders of Abdelkrim Hassane, Aboubaker Thabti, Azzeddine Soufiane, Ibrahima Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, and Mamadou Tanou, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not hesitate to condemn the attack, promising that Canadians would “meet fear and hatred with love and compassion.”
For some of us in the Muslim community, his words did not evoke hope. We have heard too many platitudes from the prime minister over the past year. What we have yet to see is Trudeau taking substantive action to combat Islamophobia in Canada.
The massacre of six Muslims praying in a mosque was unprecedented, but not entirely unexpected.
Since Trudeau took office, numerous mosques have been attacked, including one in Peterborough that was deliberately set on fire. Muslims simply existing in public — like walking on the street or taking the subway — have been harassed and physically assaulted. Violence against Muslims has become the norm in Canada — a disturbing trend since at least 9/11, but also part of a long history of white supremacy.
No one is born Islamophobic. Islamophobia is structural in nature. It derives in large part from government policy, both foreign and domestic, that has the effect of dehumanizing Muslims.
Over the past 16 years, Canada has bombed and invaded several Muslim-majority countries, including Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Iraq. Canada has been complicit in the deaths of civilians, accused of war crimes, and played a crucial role in the United States’ empire building at the expense of the lives and dignity of Muslims across the world. Consider, for example, the callousness of successive Canadian governments regarding a youthful Omar Khadr, or the cover-up of the torture of Afghan detainees.
Domestically, Muslims residing in Canada are stigmatized as a “fifth column” who pose a physical and ideological threat to Canadian society. Muslim communities are subject to extensive surveillance and harassment by CSIS and the RCMP, including in mosques. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslims are banned from flying in Canada due to the no-fly list. Several Muslim refugees are being detained indefinitely under the draconian security certificate regime. Prior to the 2015 election, the former Harper government passed the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which depicted Muslim families as regressive and violent.This sentiment has been reinforced in Quebec by provincial initiatives like the Charter of Values, and has emboldened local hate groups like La Meute, Soldiers of Odin, and Atalante Québec.
In short, when one considers the broader context, it is easy to see why someone like Alexandre Bissonnette could think it is strategic to attack a mosque. Successive Canadian governments over the past 16 years have reiterated to him that Muslims pose a violent threat and represent a danger to liberal democracy, and ultimately should not be afforded the same sanctity of life that all beings deserve.
Trudeau is not of the same mould as Harper, let alone Trump. He does not engage in the same style of dog-whistle politics, and he knows how to use words like “diversity” and “multicultural” to his advantage. Leaving his tweets and selfies aside, however, consider his actual record as prime minister.
Thus far, Trudeau has continued bombing and invading two majority-Muslim countries, Iraq and Syria. For those Syrians fleeing violence, Trudeau refused entry to non-Queer, single males, reinforcing the Islamophobic fiction that Muslim men are inherently security risks. Trudeau refused to hold an inquiry into the torture of Afghan detainees, and is proceeding with a multi-billion dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia — weapons which will inevitably be used in the war against Yemen, another Muslim-majority country.
The day after the murders in Quebec City, Trudeau refused to condemn Trump’s Muslim ban and to revoke the Safe Third Country Agreement to accept many asylum seekers entering from the United States.
Trudeau has maintained many of the laws and policies used by previous Canadian governments against Muslims. The no-fly list remains operational, and recently flagged a six-year-old Muslim child as an aviation threat. CSIS and the RCMP continue to spy on and harass local Muslim communities, imposing peace bonds and arresting people without a crime or charge, powers conferred by Bill C-51 that Trudeau has yet to repeal. Several Muslim refugees continue to be indefinitely held on security certificates, including Hassan Almrei, who Trudeau is attempting to deport to Syria. The laws amended by the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act remain on the books.
As Trudeau continues to prioritize lofty rhetoric over action, Muslims have been taking matters into our own hands. Here in Toronto, groups of Muslim women have been organizing self-defense classes following a wave of Islamophobic attacks in 2015. Hours after the massacre in Quebec, local Muslim communities organized vigils across the country and along with allies have called for a national day of action against Islamophobia and white supremacy. With or without Trudeau, Muslims and our allies will work to bring an end to Islamophobia.