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Islamophobia: A Rose By Any Other Name?

William Shakespeare recognized reality's primacy over the world of words when he noted that the fragrance of a rose was in no way dependent on its name. With all the confusion surrounding the term "Islamophobia" of late, one might wonder if we are experiencing a Shakespearean reality-word disconnect today. After all, Iqra Khalid, the Member of Parliament from Mississauga-Erin Mills and the sponsor of Motion M-103, assures us that “Islamophobia” means an "irrational fear of Muslims that leads to discrimination". This interpretation flies in the face of the fact that the word’s constituent parts denote an irrational fear (phobia) of Islam. The question arises, does ridding Canada of “Islamophobia” actually describe the sweet smelling rose that combats discrimination and preserves Charter rights or is it a moniker for a skunk cabbage whose pungent scent provides comfort and cover for one faith doctrine over all others?

The resolution of the disconnect between these competing interpretations is important as the term is central to Motion M-103 and its call for the Government of Canada to "condemn Islamophobia" and "quell" a rising tide of "systemic racism and religious discrimination". The parliamentary Committee for Canadian Heritage is responsible for advising the Government on how this might be accomplished and, if it gets the definition wrong, could very well end up proposing measures that “quell” individual rights and freedoms, such as free speech, even as faith doctrines hostile to such concepts are sheltered. Indeed, they could end up giving the nation a skunk cabbage when they think they are bestowing a rose. So what is it? Skunk cabbage or rose? To understand which it is it would be logical to break down and understand the term’s constituent parts and then move on to see how it is used and comprehended in the real world.

As mentioned previously, “phobia” translates as an irrational or unfounded fear. Is it irrational to fear any aspect of "Islam"? This determination can only be made if one understands what Islam entails and the obligations it places on its followers. These expectations are considerable as Islam is not simply a faith system but a way of life that includes both political and legal exigencies. These latter requirements are codified in Sharia Law; a perfect, deified system for life that supersedes manmade law. The authoritative handbook of Sharia Law is found in The Reliance of the Traveller; an extensive 14th century document that is certified as true to the faith in the current day by Al-Azhar University - the highest seat of Sunni Islamic scholarship and jurisprudence.

Here's the problem with Sharia Law: it treats a variety of identified groups and individuals differently. Reliance of the Traveller highlights all of these doctrinal distinctions and notes that, in a sub-section "O9" dedicated to jihad, Jews and Christians need to be converted, killed or subjugated. Likewise, sub-section “O8” details the need to kill apostates who choose to leave Islam while sub-section “E4” endorses the need to mutilate the genitals of young Muslim girls. Certainly, if you are a Jew, Christian, apostate from Islam or a young Muslim girl, it would seem quite rational that you choose to fear Islam. Here we see that the term "Islamophobia" is laden with internal inconsistencies and fails to account for the fact that some aspects of Islam, including Sharia Law, are worthy of rational fear. It’s easy to see how the internal contradiction created by the combination of “Islam” and “Phobia” can lead to confusion. Perhaps a look at the term’s demonstrated usage, in the global context, can help us resolve this confusion and sort rose from skunk cabbage.

By far, the most prolific user of the term “Islamophobia” is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that comprises 56 Muslim-majority states plus Palestine. The OIC ramped up usage of this term in the post 911 environment and made it the subject of dedicated, yearly “OIC Observatory Reports on Islamophobia” beginning in 2008. These reports define “Islamophobia” as “an excessive fear against Islam and anything associable with Islam”. This definition is most worrisome as “anything associable with Islam” would include Sharia and its blasphemy/ slander provisions. These provisions, as detailed in Reliance of the Traveller sub-section R2.2, are antithetical to current Canadian “hate” legislation as they go beyond the protection of the faith practitioner from discrimination to include the faith, its doctrine and its ideology as well.

One might argue that the OIC’s internationalized definition of “Islamophobia” carries no weight in the Canadian context. This might be the case except for the fact that the OIC was successful in securing United Nations approval of Resolution 16/18 in 2011. This “consensus” resolution is seen by the Government of Canada as providing a “practical action plan” to follow and was patterned after another OIC initiative in the form of the “Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam” in 1990. This “Declaration”, in articles 24 and 25, established Sharia as the “only source of reference” for human rights in Islam. In a similar fashion, Resolution 16/18 affirms the right for everyone to “individually or in community…to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching”. The question needs to be asked, does this “manifestation” include the implementation of Sharia speech codes as noted in Reliance?

Other Western democracies that have implemented anti-Islamophobia measures have seen the formation of “collectives” dedicated to “quelling” related transgressions. These include the “Collective against Islamophobia in France” which was successful in securing the criminal prosecution of French-Jewish scholar, Georges Bensoussans. M. Bensoussans had the temerity to cite research data that noted that the Muslim community in France was as much as three times more anti-Jewish then French people as a whole. Is there any reason that efforts to rid Canada of “Islamophobia” will not result in the prosecution of Canadians who dare to criticize the beliefs of Islam’s adherents as was the case with M. Bensoussans? It should be noted that such “collectives” are proliferating throughout the Western world and can be found in the Netherlands and even Quebec.

It would appear that the term “Islamophobia” is inconsistent with the fact that written Islamic doctrine can be seen to be worthy of fear by identifiable groups and individuals. It is also a demonstrated fact that anti-Islamophobia measures include the capacity to curtail free speech rights – even in liberal democracies that make such rights a fundamental premise of citizenship. Accordingly, the Committee for Canadian Heritage must know that it is dealing with a skunk cabbage rather than a rose as it makes findings related to the “quelling” of racism, discrimination and “Islamophobia” in Canada. Their failure to do so stands to dismantle hard won, fundamental freedoms even as repressive powers are raised. Such eventualities will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse and will not be forgotten by a diminished nation.

Major (Ret’d) Russ Cooper

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