Words matter. We’ve heard the dictum often since the Quebec City mosque massacre. Yes, they do. In fact, the statement “words matter” matters. In my experience it is either a rebuke to those who argue for the widest possible latitude in speech freedoms, or a preamble to proposing speech limitations.
Timing matters too. Because of the mosque tragedy, on Feb. 16, the House will likely vote unanimously for Motion 103, which is potentially a retrograde step for freedom of speech in Canada, at least insofar as it concerns “Islamophobia.”
M-103 asks for a study to determine “a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.” Though singled out for special consideration, it is noteworthy that the motion does not define Islamophobia.
What I fear is that MP Iqra Khalid, who tabled M-103, may understand Islamophobia to mean what its original promoters, the 56 Muslim-majority bloc of the United Nations known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), say it means. The OIC wants to see the Cairo Declaration on Human rights become the template for Islamophobia policies everywhere. The Cairo Declaration asserts the superiority of Islam and defines freedom of speech according to Shariah law, which considers any criticism of Muhammad blasphemy.
The OIC is inching ever closer to realizing that goal. Many EU countries are seeking to criminalize Islamophobia by using “racism and xenophobia,” “public order” or “denigration” laws, which are essentially proxies for the Cairo Declaration. As I noted in a previous column, former French screen star and animal-rights activist Brigitte Bardot, who finds Islam’s practice of animal sacrifice abhorrent and says so publicly, has been prosecuted and fined four times for “inciting racial hatred.”
M-103 takes inspiration from a petition, E-411, signed by almost 70,000 Canadians between June and October 2016. The motion “take(s) note of House of Commons’ petition E-411 and the issues raised by it.” E-411 reads, in part: “Recently an infinitesimally small number of extremist individuals have conducted terrorist activities while claiming to speak for the religion of Islam. Their actions have been used as a pretext for a notable rise of anti-Muslim sentiments in Canada.
“These violent individuals do not reflect in any way the values or the teachings of the religion of Islam. In fact, they misrepresent the religion. We categorically reject all their activities. They in no way represent the religion, the beliefs and the desire of Muslims to co-exist in peace with all peoples of the world.”
I don’t doubt that Samer Majzoub of Pierrefonds, Quebec, who initiated E-411, believes every word of this, yet there are many knowledgeable students of radical Islam – including in their number courageous Muslims – for whom certain key phrases in this document are, let’s say, contested interpretive terrain, and who therefore could not themselves sign this petition. Their representatives should at the least be called as intervenors in the study M-103 recommends.
Even without any law that singles out Islamophobia for special consideration, I note that, shaken by the mosque massacre, several journalists are now pledging more “nuance” in their approach to Islam-related subjects. I was surprised to hear one colleague and friend here in Quebec, who has been outspoken in criticizing Shariah law on perfectly reasonable grounds, state in an interview that she intends to be more “careful” in future.
Careful. What does that mean in this context, I ask myself. Will she no longer criticize those who seek legitimacy for patriarchal Shariah law? Looking back on my own oeuvre of Islam-related writing, I have to wonder if much of what I have written — forthrightly, but responsibly — would pass muster in a post-M-103 Canada. I have critiqued Muslim organizations with problematic links to Islamist networks. I have commented frequently on honour killings, statistically significant in Islam-dominated cultures. I have repeatedly expressed aversion for the niqab, supporting a ban on face cover in the public service.
I suppose it should go without saying, but nowadays it must be said: I harbour no animus whatsoever for my fellow Muslims citizens when I write about these issues. People are people. But there isn’t a single column I would withdraw or redact in the light of this massacre, any more than I considered softening my distaste for radical feminism’s misandry in the light of the 1989 Montreal Polytechnique massacre. Furthermore, I do not believe anyone in his right mind could possibly be incited to violence by reading them. I was not responsible for Marc Lepine’s paranoia, nor am I or my Islamism-critical colleagues responsible for Alexandre Bissonnette’s personal demons.
Nevertheless, I’m forced to wonder: will those columns henceforth be considered “careless” by those with the power to judge them? Islamophobic even?
These are no longer rhetorical questions. Much depends on how they are answered.
This article was originally published on The National Post website on February 7, 2017, and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.