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Scrapping the term Islamophobia from M103 is the best path forward

A man hides his face while promoting his anti-Motion 103 sign outside City Hall in Calgary on March 4, 2017.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage met again on Oct. 16 to debate M103, the anti-Islamophobia motion introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. There was a semblance of civility at the committee meeting when I presented my case against the motion, along with two other witnesses. Perhaps the committee had learned that respect is crucial to any dialogue after fellow Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah was treated contemptuously at the September 20 meeting. During my presentation I asked the committee some pointed questions such as “Why would the House not agree on a more precise term to combat anti-Muslim sentiment and instead insist on a vague and all-inclusive term such as Islamophobia?” A term, I might have added, which also has Islamist overtones. Also, why would the House accede to a demand that is clearly unpatriotic by casting an unfair aspersion on Canada’s society and current laws? I explained the connotations of Islamophobia to the house, stating that in Islamic nations and some Islamic circles in the West, the term clearly also means mere criticism of Islam. I also explained that the term is often falsely considered parallel to the term anti-semitism. This was important as MP Khalid had also implied an equivalence between the two. A common dictionary meaning of anti-semitism is “hostility to or prejudice against Jews”. Islamophobia, on the other hand, also includes criticism of Islam as a religion. The common dictionary meaning is “intense dislike or fear of Islam, esp. as a political force; hostility or prejudice towards Muslims.” While I could state my case without interruption for the ten minutes allotted, I felt the committee was reluctant to ask me any further questions, as I would have reinforced a viewpoint that countered the Liberal Party’s position. My only questions were from Conservative MP Scott Reid. I had recommended erasing Islamophobia from the motion, because in my view it is a vaguely defined term; I asked why the House would not agree to a more specific term to investigate anti-Muslim sentiment. Mr Reid’s response was to ask if Islamophobia defined strictly as “hatred toward Muslims” would work. I responded that would not be adequate at all, and that any redefinition of the word by the House would fall on deaf ears. Besides, not every individual would be aware of this very narrow definition of Islamophobia. Words have their own lives among the people who speak them. As far as the general public is concerned, the vagueness would remain as few would be aware of the term as redefined by the House of Commons. Not everyone is aware of government proceedings or taps into government documents as a resource. Islamophobia will continue to have disturbingly wide connotations for people who subscribe to an obscurantist view of Islam and cannot tolerate any criticism. I urged the Committee to erase the term, and all those who would preserve the right to criticize should hope that the members heed the advice. This article was originally published on the Toronto Sun website on October 19, 2017, and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.

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