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Seven Muslim witnesses ask: Please condemn ‘Anti-Muslim Bigotry’ instead of ‘Islamophobia’ in M-103

Over the course of two months’ worth of witness testimony into Motion M-103, the Heritage Committee heard testimony from many moderate or reformist Muslims who expressed concern that if the Canadian government responds to this report by condemning ‘Islamophobia’—rather than condemning anti-Muslim bigotry, discrimination and violence—it will be making life much more difficult for independent and dissenting Muslim voices.

The key point being made by witness after witness is that the government of Canada cannot control the meaning of the word ‘Islamophobia.’ Parliament may want, simply, to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry, discrimination and violence. But in choosing instead to quell ‘ Islamophobia’, we will be understood in many quarters to have condemned any action that any person chooses to call ‘Islamophobic.’ The first victims will be Muslims who dare to speak out. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Motion M-103 makes explicit reference to Petition e-411, which calls on the House of Commons to condemn ‘all forms of Islamophobia.’ While the authors of the petition probably meant this innocently, this language could easily be—and almost certainly will be—understood to mean, ‘any speech or action that any person classifies as being Islamophobic.’ Since some of the 26 definitions used by witnesses explicitly include any criticism of Islamic politics or culture, the problem is inescapable. To show just how strongly these courageous Muslim witnesses feel about the danger that their voices will be silenced if the government of Canada commits to quelling ‘Islamophobia’ rather than combatting anti-Muslim bigotry, discrimination and violence, I can do no better than to quote, verbatim, what they told the Canadian Heritage Committee (through excerpts from their overall testimony). I have recorded these views in the order in which the witnesses gave their testimony. I have recorded the time-stamp from the official records of proceedings as well. At the in camera (that is, non-public) meetings at which the Heritage Committee will be drafting its final report, I will insist on the powerful testimony below being included in the committee’s report; if it is not included, that will be because the Liberal MPs who form a majority on the committee have decided to exclude the testimony of these brave and patriotic Muslim Canadians (and one equally eloquent Muslim American).


Tarek Fatah (Sept. 20): (15:35) “In the Indian subcontinent, where close to half the world’s Muslims live … the word ‘Islamophobia’ is roughly translated as Islam dushmani, or being enemies of Islam. This is as opposed to Islam pasand, or being friends of Islam. Unless you place these two one against the other, you won’t understand what is actually the connotation behind the explosive use of this word ‘Islamophobia.’ We saw this unfold in Darfur, where black Muslims, half a million, were killed. When more than one million dark-skinned fellow Muslims were killed, the argument presented in 1971 by the Pakistanis or Bangladeshis was that the Bangla Muslims were Islam dushmani or Islamophobes, while the Pakistani Muslims were Islam pasand, or lovers of Islam.” “We Muslims who oppose Islamists feel the label ‘Islamophobia’ has been introduced to target us under the M-103 process. The primary purpose is to drown out our voices when we denounce polygamy, female genital mutilation, child marriage, honour killings, armed jihad, racial discrimination which is pervasive wherever Islamophobia is banned, and above all, the burqa, which has nothing to do with Islam but is one straightforward smack in the face of anything that feminists have struggled over for the past 200 years. “We who fled the Islamic world to escape the tyranny of falsely being called Islamophobes and make Canada home now find that enemies have hunted us down, as gullible and well-meaning non-Muslim MPs … get the wool pulled over their eyes.” (16:00) “If it [the term] was ‘Muslimophobia’, then I would say, hallelujah, let’s get along. What Irwin Cotler said of anti-Muslim bigotry, that is the question we should be debating.”


Raheel Raza (Spokesperson, Muslims Facing Tomorrow) (Sept. 27): (16:40) “[W]e are entrapped by the use of the term ‘Islamophobia’, which is not clearly defined. As I read and reread the text of Motion M-103, I can agree with the overall intent but without the use of this term, because ‘Islamophobia’ can and has been used to confuse the masses and stifle free speech.” “I’ve just returned from attending the 36th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, and I have seen how the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has for years been working towards stemming any critique of religion. Critique of religion, by the way, is not critique of people. If there are aspects of any faith that are veering towards human rights infractions, they must be discussed and debated. Religions don’t have rights; people do.” “This silencing of all debate and discussion in Islam has put us Muslims in a ridiculous position. It also puts a target on the backs of those who want change.” (16:45) “M-103, as it stands, with usage of the term ‘Islamophobia’, has divided Canadians into us and them. By singling out one faith community in this motion, it seems that Islam and Muslims are exclusive and demand special attention when in fact, statistics show us that crimes against the Jews, the black community, and the LGBTQ communities are the highest.” (16:50) “Islamophobia is a word that was created after 9/11 to stem any kind of critique, discussion, or debate about Islam and Muslims.” “[In the university course I teach in Toronto,] people are afraid to use the terms “Muslim” or “Islam”, even when asking a question like whether it was the radicals who did the bombing in London, England. They’re afraid to speak out, because this motion has got them worried that they’ll be called racist.” (17:20) “[T]he term ‘Islamophobia’ was coined after 9/11—you don’t have to take my word on it; it’s all electronically available—by an operative of the Muslim Brotherhood, who actually said, and is quoted as having said, that they would throw this term out there so that there is no questioning, criticism, or any kind of discussion about Islam and Muslims.”


Farzana Hassan (Oct. 16): (16:45) “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 the majority of Muslims, some of whom espouse a deeply obscurantist understanding of Islam. This understanding does not allow for any criticism of Islamic precept and practice. It can include criticism of Islam, Islamic culture, practices, and Muslims. In my view, no ideology is to be regarded as sacrosanct in this manner.” “In this regard, I fail to understand why the House would not agree to a more precise term to combat anti-Muslim sentiment.” “A common dictionary definition 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’.” (16:50) “I believe it is part of the Islamist agenda in Canada to include criticism of Islam and Islamic practice in the west rather than simply attributing the causes of anti-Muslim sentiment in the west to anti-Muslim bigotry. Use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ sets a dangerous trend, given the connotations the word has in Islamic countries and in some Muslim circles in the West.” “[T]he vagueness of the word ‘Islamophobia’ tends to make it all-inclusive. It compromises a person’s freedom to criticize and challenge, because without a clear definition to apply to M-103, a person would not want to test its limits. In short, the way M-103 is worded is more of a political tool….” “No system or ideology ought to be beyond reproach and questioning. It is only through questioning that we are able to address the wrongs of the past and move forward toward achieving a better world. The ideology of political Islam should also not be made inviolable, but if the term ‘Islamophobia’ is not eliminated from the motion [Motion M-103], it will potentially include jeopardizing any criticism of orthodox Islamic practice….” (17:20) “I don’t have any issues with investigating the causes of so-called anti-Muslim hatred or bigotry. My main issue is with the term ‘Islamophobia.’ In response to the question, ‘[W]ould it be satisfactory to define ‘Islamophobia’ as … violence or systemic racism, religious intolerance, or discrimination towards Muslims?’: “I don’t think that would be adequate at all, because that’s not how the word is understood in the larger [Muslim] community. You would define it that way in Parliament, yes, but …. [t]he way it is understood in many Islamic communities and across the world, it would still be a problematic word. Certainly our jurisdiction is here, but there are other jurisdictions where something like this can be seen in a very negative light and can have very negative ramifications.” (17:25) “[W]ithin certain segments of the Islamic community here [in Canada], if one were to question certain Islamic practices, certain segments would have this sort of leverage over whoever would want to challenge Islamic precept and practice. Not everyone is going to go and check what the definition [of Islamophobia] is, the way you’ve described it or the way you’re going to define it….There will always be that danger of not knowing exactly what Islamophobia is. It will remain vague in certain communities….” “Someone like me is extremely vulnerable. If something like this were to go through, I would be extremely vulnerable. It’s not just about legal action; it’s also about social censure and other things that the motion will start a process towards. That’s my fear as well. It’s not just about the legalities.”


Dr. Zuhdi Jasser (President, American Islamic Forum for Democracy) (Oct. 30): (15:45) “The unintended consequences of M-103, it may be well intended to prevent bigotry against Muslims, but since it’s couched in the terms ‘Islamophobia’, since it really looks at Muslims as a model, I think it would cause more harm than good. I’m going to walk you through what I see as some of its harms and what I think would be a better approach to the issue that were intended to be raised in M-103.” “As a devout Muslim and an American Muslim who loves my faith and loves my country, I must tell you that any emphasis on Islamophobia, as it’s called, is profoundly flawed and will continue our nations down the slippery slope of actually catering to Islamist separatism. I’m here to tell you that simply even using the terms ‘Islamophobia’ and getting the government into the business of monitoring any form of speech will end up paradoxically heightening social division….[T]rying to suppress what can be painful speech about Islam at society’s fringes will actually paradoxically feed an unintended consequence of fomenting non-Muslim fears of Islam.” …. “[M]uch of what we say on behalf of liberal rights, liberal ideas, women’s rights, minority rights, within [Muslim communities] is often identified as blasphemy by Islamic regimes. It is identified as heretical by mosques in the West and identified as ‘ Islamophobic’ by mosques and leaders in the West, including many allies of the author of M-103. I would tell you that Islamophobia is a weapon used by theocrats to prevent free speech, to prevent critical thinking and modernization of the very ideas that create the underbelly of radical Islam, if you will….” “I’m not telling you there isn’t bigotry that exists against Muslims, against Jews, against other minorities in all of our society, that we need to fight, but by calling it ‘Islamophobia’, you’re basically implying that Islam has rights. Islam is an idea, like anything else. It does not have rights. It’s not a race and it’s not part of this systemic racism and discrimination that is being addressed by M-103. I would tell you that the way to approach it, just as you approach anti-Semitism, you don’t approach Judeophobia, you approach anti-Semitism because bigotry exists among practitioners of the Jewish faith that needs to be defeated. Ultimately, bigotry exists among Muslims that needs to be defeated, but we don’t do it by making people afraid to push the issues that need reform and need to be addressed, because the primary dictum, even in the West our government addressing ‘ Islamophobia’ and calling it that is going to be Muslim.” (15:50) “Where it asks you to address and quell the increasing climate of hate and fear, I believe it will actually make it worse, preventing the tough conversations we need to have.” “Where it asks you to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of racism and religious discrimination and take note of e-411, I would tell you that the language of e-411 actually smacks of a lot of the language of theocracies from Iran to Saudi Arabia, and others, and that it will actually only empower tribal leaders and Islamists within our community.” …. “The harms of M-103 I believe include enabling and enshrining the term ‘Islamophobia’ with the empowerment of all the Islamists domestically and abroad, which marginalizes us reformers who are dedicated to working with both Liberals and Conservatives in protecting the rights of women, protecting the rights of apostates, and blasphemer, and others who Islamists don’t want to give freedom of speech to.” “M-103 will empower Islamists over Muslim reformers who actually call us ‘Islamophobes.’ I believe it infantilized Muslims by disproportionately protecting them more than any other vulnerable minority or community in Canada, and I think it will backfire and end up separating Muslims out more and feeding to both extremes—those who are too ignorant of the realities within the Muslim communities, and those who actually might be blaming all of Islam for the acts of radicals.” …. “[T]he best way to melt away any bigotry that exists against Muslims is to have us given platforms to counter Jihadism and counter Salafism so that Canadians can see us leading the battle and how much of an asset we are to countering the threat, and that will actually do so much more to counter the so-called Islamophobia or bigotry to actually have Canadians see how vital we are.”


Ali Rizvi (Author) (Nov. 6): (16:45) “For every tweet from a white nationalist telling me, ‘Go back to where you come from, you dirty terrorist,’ I also receive messages from religious people in those countries that I come from, telling me what they will do to me what they will do to me, my wife, and my child, in unspeakable terms, if I so much as set foot in Pakistan again. Why? Because I left Islam. I am an apostate. Unfortunately, I know that they are serious.” (16:50) “This is the no man’s land that I find myself in. Islamic fundamentalism on the one hand, and anti-Muslim bigotry on the other. I get it from both sides. It is from this perspective that I want to present to you the difference between challenging ideas and demonizing people. This does not need to be a partisan issue. In certain leftist circles, any criticism of Islamic doctrine is seen as bigotry against all Muslims. In certain right-leaning circles, the problematic aspects of Islamic doctrine are used as an excuse to blanketly demonize, profile, and even ban Muslims, as we’ve seen proposed south of the border. “Both sides make the mistake of conflating Islam with Muslims. Islam, like any other religion, is a set of ideas in a book. Muslims, on the other hand, are human beings. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Ideas, books and beliefs don’t and aren’t. The right to believe what we want is sacred; the beliefs themselves aren’t. [The act of] challenging ideas moves societies forward; demonizing people rips societies apart. Neither side [in this debate] makes this crucial, key distinction. The world ‘Islamophobia’ is an umbrella term that also conflates legitimate criticism of Islam—as is being done by many of my fellow liberals and secular activists trying to change our societies in the Muslim world—with the demonization of Muslims, which is, obviously, wrong….Criticizing Islam isn’t bigotry, but singling it out for protection [as one side seeks to do] and demonizing Muslims as people [as the other side seeks to do] is. We should be wary of organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, who have popularized the term ‘ Islamophobia’ for a very clever reason. It allows them to exploit the pain of real victims of anti-Muslim hate for the political purpose of stifling criticism of religion.” “Here is my proposal regarding M-103. If the motion simply uses the term, ‘Anti-Muslim bigotry,’ instead of ‘ Islamophobia’, I would back it 100%, as would many Conservatives I’ve spoken to. It would strip it’s [M-103’s] critics of their main argument. You may argue, why make such a big deal about semantics? I would ask the same question [back to you] today. If this term is preventing Opposition members and critics from backing the motion, and if we truly care about the goals and purpose of this motion—to help curb anti-Muslim bigotry—why not call it anti-Muslim bigotry, or anti-Muslim hate, or anti-Muslim sentiment? It does exactly the same thing and it doesn’t take away an iota of the meaning of the motion and what we want to achieve. Yet it also removes the barriers preventing its [M-103’s] critics from backing it. If we Liberals care about the substance of this motion over semantics we lose nothing and gain everything from making this one small change.” (17:15) “[T]he term Islamophobia is very broad. It includes not just anti-Muslim bigotry and hate against Muslims but it also includes any criticism of Islam, the religion itself. Now we’re talking about the Qur’an or scripture, Hadith, or what have you. “When you have that kind of situation then it [the term ‘Islamophobia’] goes further than just hate. It actually does impinge on free speech. The important thing I want to note here is that it’s the free speech of … millions (according to polling) of secular activists, liberal activists and people who are fighting for free speech in Muslim countries. They get hit with this label [Islamophobe] a lot because they criticized Islamic doctrine.”


Prof. Karim Achab (Professor of linguistics, University of Ottawa) (Nov. 8): (15:45) “I will provide a few comments on the word ‘Islamophobia’, as a linguist first. Dictionaries do not offer the same definition of the word. There was a compilation of the different definitions put online by Kathleen Harris from CBC News. From the different dictionaries, only one matches the one that was officially retained by the committee and also the one in circulation. Let me tell you that it’s also the one that matches the definition by the activists in the Islamic field. That’s the one that the Islamist activists also use. “The definition that was retained by the committee suggests that rational hatred is all right—from my understanding—but irrational hatred is not okay. Because of the word ‘irrational’, we need to know where the borderline stands between what is rational and what is irrational. We know that Canada is a country that does not accept any form of racism—whether it is rational or irrational—or of discrimination, and spreading hatred is also condemned by Canadian laws. “Now, the word ‘phobia’ itself is a medical term that refers to one type of mental disorder, so if these people who are doing these…hatred and these killings are phobic, then maybe they need help. It’s medical help that they need, not a law or anything that condemns them. “The definition provided by the American Psychiatric Association says, ‘Phobia is an anxiety disorder which is defined by a persistent fear of an object of a situation’. It is a mental representation, so if we talk about Islamophobia as a phobia, because there is the word ‘phobia’ in it, then it is a mental representation that does not match the world reality of what phobia is. “A phobia is a mental representation that does not match the external world. That’s why we can talk about social phobia, or people having a mental representation of what the crowd is so that they are scared to go there; but there is nothing with the crowd. “Also, we can speak of claustrophobia, which is when someone is scared of being enclosed in an inside space. So again, if someone is [Inaudible] in an elevator and they are scared because they are claustrophobic, then they think they will get stuck there. Usually they don’t, so this is also a mental disorder. (15:50) “Of course, there is [a concept of] freedom of academic lexical creation. People are free to create words, and people are free to use them, but they do not have space in Parliament or any institution that is concerned with laws of a society. This is how I see the problem with the word ‘Islamophobia’. There’s a difference between enjoying the freedom of academic lexical creation and embracing what the coined word suggests. “We need kind of a distance between the word that is offered to us and what is inside the word. Words offer some degree of conditioning. When we take a word, we take the concept, and somehow we become conditioned by that definition. “[The] authors of the initial text [of Motion M-103] coined the term and they offered us a definition. However, by offering us a definition, they’re also asking us to change the definition of “phobia”. Who can do that? The word, again, is not justifiable … from my perspective as a linguist. “People need to be protected, but not ideologies. Human rights are about protecting people, not ideologies. The question of how to disentangle these two entities is maybe something that the Canadian society as a whole should consider.”


Yasmine Mohammed (Author) (Nov. 8): (15:55) “I was born and raised in Canada. I both attended and taught at publicly funded Islamic schools in Canada. I wore a hijab from the age of nine in Canada, and later when I was forced into marriage with a jihadi I wore a niqab here in Canada as well. “In all those years, I cannot cite one single case of discrimination against me…. “M-103, with this mention of the word “Islamophobia” is actually quashing that natural and healthy desire to question and learn and understand. “The antidote to bigotry and fear is education, but M-103 is telling Canadians, no, you have no right to question, criticize, or fight against this ideology that is killing your fellow human beings. You must bite your tongue when you learn that 13 countries will execute you for being gay, or that the overwhelming majority of girls in Egypt and Sudan have had their clitoris cut out. You must turn the other cheek when you see a child wrapped up in clothing that restricts every single one of her five senses. You must smile and nod when you see yet another child being forced into marriage where she’ll be raped for the rest of her life. “M-103 wasn’t around when I was a child, but its premise of Islamophobia is what caused a judge to send me back to my severely abusive family at 13 years old. He knew my family had hung me upside down in the garage and whipped the bottoms of my feet, but he sent me back anyway. He sent me back because, as he explained it, different cultures have different ways of disciplining their children. If only I had been born with white skin, then that judge would have deemed me worth protecting. But, alas, I came from the wrong culture, so I was sent back. “In his aim to be culturally sensitive, that judge actually ended up being incredibly bigoted. He treated me differently from all other Canadian kids because of my cultural background, and that is unacceptable…. (1600) “Most Muslims fled here to escape those draconian, oppressive laws that limit their freedom of speech. The last thing in the world they want is to see those laws following them here into the free western world. “It’s been said numerous times by numerous speakers, and I add my voice to the chorus, as long as M-103 has the term ‘Islamophobia’ in it, it will only serve to divide and cause more hate, more discrimination, and more fear. All Canadians should be protected from discrimination, and all Canadians should be free to speak out against all ideologies. M-103 is not serving either of those purposes. “In order for M-103 to both protect human beings and not protect any ideology, the term needs to be removed, clarified, or amended to ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’. There is a pervasive idea that those who are against the term ‘Islamophobia’ are interested in seeing Muslims discriminated against. This assertion could not be more ludicrous. To loosely quote Christopher Hitchens, there is a tendency to think that if someone in any way disagrees with you it must be for the lowest possible reason, and if you find the lowest possible motive, you have found the right one.”

Scott Reid is the Member of Parliament for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston and is currently the Shadow Cabinet critic for Democratic Institutions. He served from 2008 to 2015 as the chairman of the subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

This article was originally published on Scott Reid MP’s website on November 15, 2017, and can be viewed on his site by clicking here.

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