What this liberal Muslim will be saying before the M-103 committee


Farzana Hassan

On Monday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage will reconvene to discuss the pros and cons of M-103, the hotly-debated motion that has polarized the country. The motion is controversial for a number of reasons. Its critics justifiably fear that the motion attempts to thwart freedom of conscience and speech when it comes to criticizing the disturbing and extreme Islamic practices sometimes seen among migrant communities. Such practices often centre on treatment of women. They might include polygamy, the segregation and marginalization of women, and in some groups, such as the North African communities, the heinous practice of female genital mutilation. Many fear that mere criticism of such practices will soon become legally actionable. I will be appearing before the committee as a witness against the motion. A big problem is the standing committee hasn’t clarified the term Islamophobia in the context of M103. Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, who crafted the motion, could have clarified the term but has neglected to do so. The supporters of the motion claim that the commitment to avoid bigoted judgments is non-binding. However, many fear that it is merely a precursor to a bill condemning Islamophobia, which is a very nebulous notion. I consider equating Islamophobia with anti-Semitism highly flawed. In committee, I will argue that the two are fundamentally different, are used in very different contexts and would also have completely different ramifications in the context of M-103. Khalid has used the condemnation of anti-Semitism as a pretext to push for a similar response to what she considers Islamophobia. I would go so far as to label the demand for a motion like M-103 an unpatriotic act; it casts a harsh judgment on Canada’s existing laws and downplays its generous policies toward immigrants and refugees. It is unfortunate that Khalid experienced a degree of racism by her peers at school. Yet Mississauga, where she grew up, is home to a large number of Muslim students who have not reported similar racism. She has also had unrestricted opportunities to associate with members of her own ethnic and faith community. Mississauga is also home to several schools where the Peel Board of Education has allowed weekly congregational prayers, sometimes causing great disruption to other students. There are always pockets of racism, and migrants certainly experience it first hand. However, Canada’s institutions and administrative bodies — not to mention the public at large — strive to accommodate reasonable diversity of faith. The standing committee on M-103 wishes to investigate the “causes of Islamophobia” without actually clarifying the meaning of the term in this context. I originally come from a country where blasphemy is considered a crime against the state. The term Islamophobia poses a unique problem in the way it is understood in Islamic nations, as well as among Muslims, some of whom espouse a deeply obscurantist understanding of Islam. This understanding tolerates no criticism of Islamic precept, culture, belief or practice. Citizens must retain the right to criticize what they find mistaken, misguided or damaging, whether in movies, in art or in the behaviour of individuals or even cultural groups. Islamophobia seeks to write special rules for fundamentalist Islam. While investigating causes of what Khalid considers to be anti-Muslim sentiment may be a valid objective, the term Islamophobia must either be clarified or deleted from M-103. This article was originally published on the Toronto Sun website on October 15, 2017, and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.

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