Last week, an act of terror at a Quebec City mosque awoke Canadians to the danger posed by an increasing number of ultra-nationalist, right-wing groups and individuals. How could a 27-year-old man obtain semi-automatic weapons and what would lead him to commit such a heinous act of terror against Quebec Muslims?
While the mainstream media covered these events, very few outlets were willing to make link them to the highly-Islamophobic rhetoric coming out of mainstream political parties at both the provincial and federal levels. Even further off their radar was the role that right-wing, nationalist, Islamophobic, intolerant, sexist and misogynistic commentators have played in creating and sustaining an environment under which right-wing extremism has been allowed to implant itself in Quebec society.
On the political front, Quebec’s mainstream nationalist parties, the Parti Québécois led by Jean-François Lisée and the Coalition Avenir Québec led by François Legault, have not been held accountable for their highly Islamophobic rhetoric that has dramatically escalated since the summer of 2013, when the Marois government proposed to ban all ostentatious religious symbols from the public service.
In the years that followed, both the PQ and the CAQ compromised the integrity of their parties by continuously bringing a variety of intolerant views associated with right-wing nationalism into Quebec’s mainstream political discussions. They spread fear, division and hatred against our Muslim sisters and brothers while refusing to engage in dialogue and boycotting events. Stephen Harper played the same cards in the 2015 federal election by vilifying two women who wore the niqab during citizenship ceremonies. Members of the PQ’s youth wing were linked with the far-right Front National in France and a Bloc Québécois candidate had to explain to the media why she supported an openly Islamophobic group called PEGIDA by mistake.
Rather than defining a clear alternative to the Couillard Liberals, Quebec’s mainstream opposition parties are attempting to create an issue out of the Muslim community’s presence in the province. They have degraded Muslim women, attacked their traditional clothing and attempted to divide our society along religious lines.
These disreputable politicians were in search of an issue to contrast themselves against the Liberals. This was one of the only issues they were comfortable pursuing and they’ve done so without the slightest regard for the impacts their statements would have on the population. Beyond identity politics, the three major political parties in Quebec’s National Assembly agree on most issues including, but not limited to, neoliberal austerity, corporate welfare and doing nothing about the environmental crisis. Consequently, identity politics is one of the only issues they have left to debate in the legislature.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media has chosen to give voice to many intolerant views in the pursuit of “balanced” coverage. Who are they to screen guests for racist points of view prior to broadcasting their messages? One would think that, in 2017, things would be different; that news organizations would not give in to broadcasting hate speech but, unfortunately, they have.
To make matters even worse, some of the more conservative outlets have taken matters one step further and have Islamophobic, misogynistic, and intolerant commentators on their payrolls. These commentators seek to create and encourage any form of controversy surrounding inclusion of religious minorities, LGBTQ2+ rights, women’s rights and any other issue that would give them and their outlets exposure, revenue and sales.
Over the past few years, mainstream Islamophobic rhetoric has empowered extreme right-wing groups, neo-Nazis and fascists. These groups have gained legitimacy due to the simple fact that mainstream politicians and media organizations have expressed indirect support for their cause and explicit support for some of their racist and discriminatory rhetoric.
By fanning the flames of right-wing extremism, many mainstream politicians, including but not limited to Jean-François Lisée and François Legault, have a share of responsibility for what happened at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre and the rise of right-wing extremist nationalism in the province. They share this responsibility with the mainstream media outlets who have profited from publishing hate speech. They need to be held accountable.
Hate speech is a crime and it is time to start enforcing our laws and working towards a more inclusive society.