I remember crying when I first heard about the Quebec City Mosque shooting. I saw the faces of my father, my uncles, and my friends in the faces of the victims. I remember asking how this could have happened in a country that claims to value immigrants and diversity. I was stressed about college applications, since most of my options were in Canada, McGill being my first choice. My father, an Egyptian Muslim, tried to console me, telling me that a few bad apples shouldn’t ruin the bunch, and that, ultimately, I would be safer and happier in Canada than I would be back home. I believed him.
I believed him all through my first semester. I believed him until I was walking home one night from a restaurant on St. Catherine street, when a man began to follow me home, yelling “Go back home, terrorist!” I started seeing posters around Milton-Parc by Generation Identity, a white-supremacist group that is known to recruit on university campuses, displaying Islamophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. As an Egyptian-Canadian Muslim, I think that we must own up to and address our Islamophobia.
Hate crimes against racialized people and religious minorities, especially Muslims, is on the rise. Islamophobia is more prevalent in Quebec than in any other province. There are between 20 and 25 documented hate groups in Quebec: Besides Generation Identity, La Meute, an anti-Muslim Quebec nationalist group, has over 17,000 members on Facebook alone as of press time. Groups like these are founded on the same principles that Alexandre Bissonnette held when he murdered six Muslims and injured 19 others two years ago. And, these are the same principles that will lead to more discrimination, violence, and suffering if Quebec does not act against white-supremacist groups.
Not all Islamophobia comes from hate groups. Government institutions are just as responsible for propagating hate, including provincial laws like Bill 62, Quebec’s ‘religious neutrality’ law, which bans face-coverings for those obtaining or providing public services.
The victory of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) in the recent provincial election has only augmented my fears. The CAQ was elected on a platform that specifically targets immigrants and Muslims, proposing expulsion for immigrants who fail a “Quebec values” test and a hijab ban for public servants while on the job. Governments who spew hateful rhetoric will only validate the views of white supremacists like Bissonette. Premier François Legault must make an active effort to preserve the safety and freedom of Muslim Quebecers.
Islamophobia, like other kinds of discrimination, is an intersectional issue. Most Muslims, myself included, are racialized, meaning that we face racism as well. In the case of Muslim women, sexism comes into play, too. We need to address all forms of systemic discrimination in Canada in order to improve the lives of Muslims, racialized people, women, and sometimes, all of the above.
There is no one way to tackle hate. For McGill students specifically, it’s important that we continue to mobilize against systemic discrimination, white-supremacy, and hate. Groups like the Muslim Students’ Association, the Black Students’ Network, and other associations do indispensable work in the interim for racialized and Muslim students. On Jan. 29, take a moment to honour those killed and injured. It is a hard day for many Muslims; provide support for your peers who need it.