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National Post: M-103 has passed. And what today has changed for the better?

The basic question to ask the supporters of the contentious anti-Islamophobic motion is has it any utility? Will it do anything? Will it change attitudes for the better? If there is a stock of genuine Islamophobia in Canada, will recording this motion decrease it, or move to decrease it? That, I presume, was the priority consideration in the minds that brought it forth. Obviously, they must have thought it would, for otherwise there would be no point in issuing it, arguing for it, and stirring the quite considerable debate it already has. For the motion itself, and the politics that attended it, have not been without contention. The questions raised on its wording were legitimate. Why the particular focus on Islam? Why not a motion, as some have suggested, speaking out against prejudice against all religions? There is also concern that the motion will, in some manner, chill valid criticism of Islamist terror, or will not make allowance for legitimate criticism or analysis of Islam. Such criticism would now be forced to wear the degrading mantle of Islamophobia. Given this welter of mixed impressions and varied understandings of the very point of the motion, how effective can it be? There is the key term itself, Islamophobia. As I have suggested in an earlier piece, this recent coinage, Islamophobia, is itself a contested term. The minister piloting the motion sees Islamophobia as “the irrational hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination.” That’s not as clear as at first glance it might seem. If the fear is “irrational,” then the ambition to reduce it by means of a distant parliamentary motion is a curious if not a wild response. Irrational fears are by definition those not subject to reason. We eliminate those only by therapy or medicine. We do not argue them away. Hence, we have never had a motion deploring claustrophobia. The cruel deeds, by a terrorist, at the British Parliament this week give sombre point to these concerns. Should we not have some moderate response of caution and concern after London? Is that irrational? There is nothing irrational in having a reasoned or limited fear towards a group publicly committed to terrorism, and self-declared perpetrators of it, in the name of Islam. Nor is there bigotry, Islamophobia, in seeing the declared connection with Islam in these kinds of terror acts. If there is an Islamic connection, and it is declared ,even insisted upon, by the actors themselves, it is surely not phobic both to see the connection, and heed the declaration. Then too, there is the rhetorical or forensic deployment of the term. A person who criticizes Islam, or who reasonably makes a connection between current terrorism and certain groups within Islam will, in some circles, very quickly be labelled Islamophobic. No one likes to be called a bigot, and thus people — under fear of such a charge, mute their speech, trim their thoughts and withhold honest criticism because of the weight of this word, Islamophobe, being placed on their shoulders. Plainly put, sometimes the charge of Islamophobia is merely a harsh and dishonest way of shutting down an argument, or expelling all discussion. Who argues with bigots? Yet there is an even wider reason to question the motion’s value. Time and again it was stressed that it was not a law, not a piece of legislation, but a mere motion. It therefore mandated precisely nothing. It had no penalties for people who choose to ignore it, brought into being no requirements in action. So, it must be presumed, its point was merely to place on parliamentary record the sentiment of the House of Commons on a sensitive manner. And, to be blunt, what will that likely achieve? Will it perhaps launch one of Parliament’s dubious and protracted studies? Will it change the social or moral landscape of the country in any detectable way? Its proponents make such a case for its innocuousness, such a point of repeating it is not legislation, and how it will not alter existing laws or behaviours. So what will it do? What is it for? We might add as well that the public have long lost the habit, if they ever enjoyed it, of looking on Parliament Hill as their moral lighthouse. I will go further. My guess is that the great swath of the Canadian public, the great large centre hailed by politicians of every stripe, is not really in need of guidance. They are not reflexively or otherwise “haters of Islam” and are appalled by the very notion. In fact the public might more readily send moral signals to Parliament than the reverse. The remaining segment, that element that we may agree are in the obnoxious camp of genuine prejudice, will be oblivious to the point of contempt at any prodding from “those politicians” to change their minds or views. Can a mere motion really carry any weight with the very set it is designed to address? I really do not think so. A buzz of stupid chatter is all they will hear if they listen at all. Finally, it is interesting that by raising this matter to parliamentary attention, the motion itself provoked more of a storm than it settled. There were contentions in the House. There were the usual accusations of playing politics with a sensitive issue. There was sharp division on why Islam was centred in the debate and not all prejudice towards all religion. Was that helpful? To return to my original question, was the debate and division in Parliament itself likely to reduce in any measurable way the Islamaphobia its was designed to reduce? I cannot see it. The motion is either futile, inutile, or both. This article was originally published on the National Post website on March 24, 2017, and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.

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